old nuclear power plant and health concerns

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    Hi: I will be a new person working as a janitor in McMurdo this October. Recently I’ve been reading some good books by people who have visited McMurdo. I read a book by Roff Smith– Life on the ice: Noone goes to Antarctica Alone. In his book he mentions that there was a nuclear power plant at McMurdo back in the 1970’s and that it was dismantled and the radioactive materials were removed. I’m just curious if any of the employees currently working at McMurdo have had any concerns about their health possibly being affected by any radioactive waste that may be lingering on there. I live in Boulder, Colorado near Rocky Flats and many former employees there have developed cancers which they think are attributed to exposure to radioactive materials. Or do you think that the area was cleaned so well that that there is nothing to worry about? Just curious…

    Been There

    The Nuclear Power Plant, PM3-A was removed back in the early 70’s. There was never a leak to the environment and the site was completely cleaned. If you have a good library close by get them to get you a copy of the March 1980 issue of the Antarctic Journal of the United States through the interlibrary loan program. The cover article of that issue gives a good history of the operation of the plant. If you don’t have any luck contact David Friscic at dfriscic@nsf.gov and ask him to send you a copy of the article.

    Bottom line, nothing to worry about, I have been there many times and I am fine. Of course my kids all have six fingers and toes (kidding).

    Been There


    I heard an interesting story about the ‘leak’, maybe BT can confirm or deny it…

    They thought there may have been some leakage, so they tested the soil around the nuke plant. Sure enough, small amounts of radioactivity were found. So they started removing the contaminated soil and rock — but couldn’t seem to eliminate the radioactive stuff.

    Then someone thought to test the rest of the rock around station… All of it is a little bit naturally radioactive. Today there’s a big pit near the site of the power plant where they scooped out tons of [clean] rock, thinking it was contaminated.

    Been There

    There was NEVER a leak to the environment. There was water in a place that it should not have been but it was within the primary containment vessel. When the final decision was made to remove the plant the DOS determined that the US would use the stricts standards of any of the Antarctic Treaty countries to test the area. We used the standards of the Soviet Union and recoved hundreds of tons of material that US research personnel said was material that contained normal background radiation levels. Bottom line is the material that was removed was not the result of a leak from PM3-A, you could eat it and it would not hurt you, assuming you like to eat dirt, and it was used as material to build a parking lot in Port Hueneme, California.

    I was there for the removal, I am not making this stuff up.

    Been There

    S de


    I agree with Been There…

    My first trip to the ice in 1972-73 was about 3 months after the plant went down. I got a good tour of the place, at the time they were still trying to figure out if the problem could/should be fixed. A contingent of engineering folks from Fort Belvoir was on the plane with me.

    Coincidentally, NSF had a separate engineering study done shortly before the leak discovery; it concluded it woulc be cheaper if PM3A were shut down and replaced with adequate diesel fired generating capacity.

    There are two books on the plant, published as fiction but really thinly veiled documentary, these should be available from online sources as I got mine…

    Crowson, Frank. The Ninth Tier Down (fiction) pub 2001
    Pollock, Herbert W. None Shall Forget (fiction) pub 2001


    PS to mountainwoman…

    I too have a copy of the March 1980 Antarctic Journal (well, my collection of these is only missing about 5 issues 🙂

    The other comment regarding the radioactivity of the soil…it seems that the natural radioactivity of the soil in Port Hueneme was higher than that of the solil being retrograded toward the end that got used for fill.. Go figure.


    My first season was in the 1980’s. At the time I had the same health concerns since I hiked up and around that area. I actually borrowed a Geiger counter from the Biolab and took it up to the old site on Ob Hill. While I can’t verify the equipment was in spec it did register a very slight amount of radiation in one or two places but nothing that indicated contamination. Out of curiosity I took it around to other locations and the same thing happen. Background or spurious readings I presume. I never gave it another thought (until now).

    If you recreate in the summer the dust kicked up by vehicles is likely more of a health concern if inhaled. Many fuel spills in and around town have occurred, especially when our environmental awareness was more limited. I always try to limit runs and hikes to off road trails which there are quite a few to enjoy.

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