What better place to bring your darling offspring (and a few friends) for a Sunday stroll than to a mountain of nuclear waste?
It’s the “Weldon Spring CERCLA Site” or “Disposal Cell” or my personal favorite, the “Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail and Museum” (which is what it says on google maps). I was looking for a sign that said “Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail and Museum” (since its on google maps and everyone knows you can trust google) and was disappointed that there was no such sign because I was dying to photograph such a sign. That was pretty much my only disappointment on our little outing du jour. Which I think is saying a lot for a visit to a mountain of nuclear waste.
The largest explosives factory in America once stood on land just south of Weldon Spring, Missouri. Ten years later, the same property was occupied by a plant that refined uranium for Cold War nuclear bombs. The site was abandoned in the late 1960s. Twenty years later, when the EPA showed up, what they found was a big, filthy mess.
What do you do with 1.48 million cubic yards of PCBs, mercury, asbestos, TNT, radioactive uranium and radium, and contaminated sludge and rubble? Rather than haul it west into a desert, the Weldon Spring management team hit upon a novel solution: they would entomb it right where it was, inside a man-made mini-mountain. (source)
I think the Spy’s facial expression in the photo above captures some of the essence of this place. HAHahaha
Josh Young, in Missouri Curiosities, 3rd: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff writes:
…a project manager for the DOE stated, “You don’t tell people they’re safe by putting fences around something. Fences communicate a very negative barrier.” To commune with nature at Weldon Spring and see how well you think the government has done its job, take MO 94 south from I-70, west of St. Louis. Open during daylight hours; admission is free (if you don’t count the $1 billion).
Josh Young’s description of the site also mentioned that on a clear day you can see downtown St. Louis and the Arch! It was a pretty clear day but I didn’t even think to look for the arch, shoot! I shall have to return.
I liked the space-y quality of the white spherical tower from the odd vantage point.
This was basically gravel paradise for baby.
The quotes so far have been from blogs/entertainment sources. Here’s something more official from the Missouri Department of Conservation:
Portions of the Weldon Spring Conservation Area were used by the Department of Army in the 1940’s for TNT and DNT production and by the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1960’s for uranium ore processing. The affected portions were all part of a federal environmental cleanup project and required to meet certain environmental health and safety standards. The area is now considered safe for all recreational pursuits allowed on the area, as well as the wildlife found within the area. (source)
The US government says its safe and everyone knows you can trust the US government! Here’s more from our friends in Washington:
The site restoration effort includes preventing erosion around the disposal cell while creating an environment that benefits birds, insects, and small animals. The process of building a prairie to revegetate the site for erosion protection began in 2002 with the preparation and seeding of approximately 150 acres of soil surrounding the disposal cell and extending to the site boundary. The was named in honor of the original prairie on which Francis Howell, Sr., built his homestead in the early 1800s. The creation of the Howell Prairie continued in 2003 and 2004 with the planting of approximately 80 species of native forbs and prairie grasses. To preserve the history of the Weldon Spring site and tell the story of its interesting past, DOE remodeled one of the buildings at the site into a 10,663-squarefoot visitor center. Visitors can now hike or bike the Hamburg Trail through the site, climb to the top of the disposal cell to view the expanse of prairie in bloom at various times of the year, and tour the Interpretive Center and Native Plant Educational Garden. The Native Plant Educational Garden contains extensive plantings of species from the Howell Prairie as well as other perennials, shrubs, and trees. (source)
Gardens, prairies, blooms, native forbs, an 1800’s homestead. How lovely. What was that we were talking about again?
Oh, nuclear waste.
So my take on the matter? For one thing, if you think Spy Garden is unique in being in such close proximity (a 20 minute drive) to nuclear waste, you are sorely mistaken. Chances are there is a nuclear power plant or Superfund site or other not-so-squeaky clean environmental “thing” in your neck of the woods. The official Spy Garden opinion on nuclear power is: complicated. Developing a Spy Garden Energy Position Paper for Kids may be in the cards in a future post, but not tonight.
we’re feeling quite woozy and the Spy’s got a green glow about him and simply must get to bed!