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Cold War
Fernald’s Contribution to the U. S. Defense Program


Headline from March 31, 1951, "Cincinnati Times-Star."
Headline from March 31, 1951, "Cincinnati Times-Star."


At the end of World War II, the United States embarked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union that would last for more than four decades.   

The Cold War was a conflict over ideological, economical and political differences, resulting in a nuclear arms race between the two countries.  To combat the threat of communism, the U.S. government developed a national research, production and testing network that came to be known as the “nuclear weapons complex.”  At its peak, the complex consisted of 21 major facilities, including research, production, assembly and testing sites located in 13 states, often in small rural communities.

Recognizing the need to regulate the production and use of atomic power, the U.S. government founded the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. One of the act’s provisions was the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a civilian-led agency that would later become the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The AEC was responsible for the production of fissionable material, biologic and health research, accident prevention, the production of electricity, nuclear aircraft research and data declassification.

The Fernald Site
In the late 1940s, the AEC authorized the construction of a single consolidated processing facility that would contain a chemical processing component and a uranium metal refinery to supply feed material to the rest of the weapons complex.  Prior to this, feed material was produced at three separate locations in St. Louis, Mo., Cleveland, Ohio, and Niagara Falls, N.Y.  The AEC’s New York Operations office assigned the job of siting the plant to its architect/engineering design contractor, Catalytic Construction Company.  The AEC’s goal was to have the new site operational by January 1953.

During its search for the perfect location to build a uranium production facility, Catalytic Construction considered over 60 different locations in several mid-western and southern states.  Its final recommendation was a 1,050-acre parcel of land located on the border of Hamilton and Butler counties near the small rural community Fernald, Ohio. The site offered the best combination of features: a skilled labor force (machinists); lower property values; a plentiful water supply; a nearby railroad line; close proximity to Cincinnati and level terrain.

The area was mainly agricultural and undeveloped.  Most residents received their water from wells or cisterns, many farms had no electricity, and local roadways were often narrow and unpaved.  Despite the rural setting, the AEC decided the location was optimal for a uranium production facility and used the federal government’s right of eminent domain to claim the land it needed. A front-page article in the March 31, 1951, edition of the Cincinnati Times-Star announced the AEC’s plan to “build a $3 million uranium ore refining plant near Fernald.” 

Once the location was selected, the AEC moved quickly to begin construction of the plants and support facilities. Some of the houses and buildings the government acquired from property owners were used as construction offices. As more homes were built in the area to accommodate Fernald’s expanding workforce, many small towns that dotted the surrounding area of Hamilton and Butler counties grew and became economically dependant on the site.  For almost 30 years, the community and plant quietly coexisted; people thought little of the manufacturing facility and many did not realize its link to the nation’s defense program. The threats of the Cold War fueled concerns about national security, and the company warned employees not to share information about their jobs or site operations with the public. What was once considered a patriotic mission for the nation’s security would decades later be called threatening and dangerous operations.

About Fernald
| Archive Photos | Transition to Cleanup | Cold War | End of Secrecy  |  50 Years of Fernald | History | Production Operations |
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Together, DOE and Fluor Fernald were committed to safely restoring the 
Fernald site to an end state that serves the needs of the community.