Friday, March 14, 2008

Nuclear Lake Before the AT

Update and note on commenting (22 December 2016): This is the most-commented post on this blog (I'm not surprised). If you'd like your comment to appear, please don't post anonymously. I'd like to be able to contact you if I have any questions about your sources or other information. Thanks.

See other updates at the bottom of this post.

In December of 1972, a chemical explosion blew out two windows in the plutonium facility near the shore of Nuclear Lake, west of Pawling, New York. I taught physics at the Trinity Pawling School in Pawling during the late 1970s until 1981. Several times I explored the UNC (United Nuclear Corporation) property, which was gated, but not closed to public access. I also went to a couple of meetings of the Nuclear Lake Management Site Clearance Subcommittee, which was trying to make sense of the available data surrounding the accident and the current state of the property.

Accident Diagram
This diagram appeared in Nuclear Lake: A Resource in Question, prepared by the Nuclear Lake Management Site Clearance Subcommittee, published in January 1982.

The lure of an abandoned nuclear research facility where an accident had occurred was too strong to resist. I explored the property several times and took these photographs in 1981.

Plutonium Facility, 1981 photo by Ed Bacher

This photograph shows the plutonium building from the west, looking toward the lake.

Nuclear Lake Window, 1981 photo by Ed Bacher

Unfortunately, I don't remember if this window was in the plutonium building, but I suspect so.

Concrete Slabs, Nuclear Lake 1981 photo by Ed Bacher

These slabs and other debris littered the woods in 1981.

The previous post shows the property in March, 2008. The buildings are gone, though large clearings remain where the buildings stood.


Update (15 September 2011):

  • Here's an interesting article from Yankee Magazine (1994) about another nuclear accident.  It also mentions the Pawling UNC accident.
  • And another from the LA Times (1986) that talks about the decision to open the Appalachian Trail through the Nuclear Lake site.

Update (9 December 2017):

In December 1972 there was a fire and two explosions at the Gulf United Nuclear Corporation fabrication plant near Pawling, New York, where Pu fuel was being manufactured for fast breeder reactors. An undetermined amount of Pu was dispersed off-site,[39] so the event can hardly be less than INES level 4. A NAMS magnitude-4.0 event would be produced by the release of the order of just 10 g of 239Pu and 240Pu to the atmosphere; given that the fire and explosions were serious enough for the plant to be closed down, it is likely that the release could have been one or two orders of magnitude above that weight of Pu. Furthermore, the incidence of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in Pawling is apparently 3 in a town of 5000,[40] when the expected value would be 1 – 2 per 100 000 population. The CML Wikipedia webpage states, “The only well-described risk factor for CML is exposure to ionizing radiation.” So the CML cluster at Pawling suggests that at least one serious release occurred from the plant.
  • has a lot of information about Fukushima, but there's a document archive that also has a folder about Nuclear Lake. I scanned my copy of the Nuclear Lake Report and gave them a copy, so you can read the whole thing there if you want. It's not very conclusive.


Anonymous said...

Growing up in Pawling, I have some very intersting information about Nuclear Lake, including a map that came from inside the Engineering Bldg. The Critical Facility was referred to as the "Reactor Bldg.", and the Plutonium Facility was called the "Hot Lab". The map clearly detailed a tunnel between the 2 buildings that was sealed with what appeared to be hastely poured concrete at both ends. The commission denied the tunnel existed, but couldn't explain how plutonium would have been transferred between the 2 bldgs (like a push cart accross the parking lot wouldn't have been the answer). We always thought that the hot stuff was put in the tunnel, and the tunnel was sealed. I bet ground-penetrating sonar would reveal it.
The problem, I believe, was never really fixed.

Ed Bacher said...

Well, that certainly adds a new twist to the story. I'd love to have a look at that map sometime. If you're following this thread, drop me a line at with more information and maybe we can connect somehow. The UNC site always fascinated me when I lived in Pawling, and it obviously fascinates others as well.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting to me. I grew up around the area and never knew this existed. This may explain alot for me. Has anyone around the surrounding areas that you know of has had or has died of cancer?

Anonymous said...

There is an optional by-pass for the Appalachian Trail, from Old Route 55 to Penny Road, Towns of Beekman & Pawling, Dutchess, County, NY. The by-pass suggests a way of avoiding that portion of the trail that passes near Nuclear Lake. The map of the by-pass has initials and dates in 1986/7. The back of the map reads: "The next three miles of the Appalachian Trail pass no closer than 1/4 mile from a former nuclear testing facility that conducted operations from 1956 to 1973. In 1972, a non-nuclear explosion took place in a building used for research, releasing a small amount of plutonium dust into the air. After the incident, the United Nuclear Corporation closed the facility and performed a two year clean-up of the contaminated area." From the time the property was acquired for the Appalachian Trail (1979) until 1986, "... extensive tests were performed by public and private experts in the nuclear field. More testing and examination of the lake bottom are pending." The trail and the by-pass were opened in 1986. "Additional testing indicates two building have surface contamination in excess of current guidelines, so portions of the property are closed to public access."
This restriction was apparently eased prior to Anonymous' ventures.

I have seen deadpan reports in NY State lake fishing guides telling of sportsmen landing huge crocodilebass hybrids from Nuclear Lake, and also watching these beasts devour Canadian geese.

Anonymous said...

Still looking thru boxes of old stuff to find the map. Did find the NPS report, 'Nuclear Lake: A resource in question'

Paul, believe me when I say that the restrictions consisted of a livestock gate at the bottom of the access road and plastic warning signs on the buildings and that was it. Anyone who ventured up there could have crawled thru a broken window, or door.

I rememeber having a Science teacher at Pawling CSD who worked there, and claimed the entire "accident" was a hoax used to cover up the fact that we were moving highly-enriched plutonium to Israel for bomb-making purposes. The timing in 1972 is right to the policital situation then.

Sounds kinda Tom Clancey to me, but hey, you never know. Our government has done some really shady things in the past.

Ed Bacher said...


When I was there, in 1981, the property belonged to the National Park Service, but it was not yet clear if it would be safe to route the AT through there. There was a caretaker in the house, and a gate across the access road. But as you say, nobody prevented you from going in. I did not actually go into any of the buildings, but just explored and took some photographs.

I have the publication, Nuclear Lake: A Resource in Question, which was actually published by a local citizens' group. That's where the accident diagram came from.

If you do find the map you remember, let us know!

Nuclear Lake is still fascinating, even after all these years. I'll try to dig up a few more photographs from my explorations.

Anonymous said...

It was not a hoax, my father worked there, and was part of the clean up.

Tony from Yonkers said...

Good stuff Ed! I have been leading a Fall AMC hike to Nuclear Lake from the Metro-North AT stop for the past few years. I always enjoy sharing info with the hike participants. Being able to share these few photos and comments with the group will be super. The map you provided verifies the placement of the buildings shared with me by a fisherman I met a couple of years back who has been fishing the lake since he was a kid and remembers the buildings.

An interesting note is the presence of freshwater jellyfish in the lake. Here is the link to the sampling:

My understanding is these things are only about the size of a thumbnail.

Deborah said...

Hello, I grew up in Holmes N.Y. and I indeed right out of High School 1971 was stricken with a lymphoma in my salivary gland. I found out years later that my best friend at the time has a lymphoma and her Mother died from lymphoma as well. Eileen also told me that many people in Holmes came down with lymphomas too. We all however called Nuclear Lake a small pond which attached to a larger pond near Holmes Pond which was in my backyard, and there were rumors. We were always told it was a dead pond, not to swim or fish there because nothing was in it. I looked it up on the bing maps and the older maps show this small pond and in the newer maps it has been filled in and you can see the outline. I am taking a ride over there to see for myself over the weekend and ask around where that very deep pond went? I would also be very interested in any all all info as it pertains to Nuclear Lake which is directly north of the other Nuclear Lake - Whaly Lake is approx in the middle on the map. My e-mail is

Anonymous said...

I know that there was some kind of explosion there. I grew up in Beekman - I was only about 8 at the time - but I remember it - my mom worked in the e.r at Vassar - that is were at leasat one of the casualties came in - she'll never forget it - one guy's watch was melted right to the bone - (according to her) - a helicopter came and whisked the injured away and it was all hush hush -

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Pawling and have had CML for 5 years. (Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia) A rare disease that strikes only a mere 4,000 people a year. I never met anyone with CML ever. Until recently when I discovered 2 other previous residents of Pawling also have CML. I had friends in High School who had rare lymphomas, and another friend recently diagnosed with lymphoma, her mom died of cancer 2 years ago. Coincidence? I don't think so. I am very interested to find Pawling cancer cluster information and UNC. I am convinced now that is where it is from. CML is 100% environmental. Anyone with any info please let me know. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could add more to the thread but I grew up in Poughquag, NY and actually camped at the site once in the early 1980s. I've heard of 55 gallon drums in the lake and I did see a huge bass hanging on the wall in my friend's house which was caught at Nuclear Lake but that's all I can really add. I've since moved away but am still curious about the site. Thanks for sharing your information.

Anonymous said...


Of special note are pages 15 and 16 which mention the Pawling facility.

On page 17, "this location has the advantage of being in direct communication with the plutonium laboratory, thus reducing the amount of handling required to transport materials between the

I did notice that 55 gallon drums were mentioned in the document which lends a bit of interest to the earlier post where I heard that drums were in the lake.

In full disclosure I did not read the entire document but just pulled out sections to share.

Anonymous said...

I grew up also in Poughqag NY and knew the care taker very well in the mid 80'S that guarded the Lake. I used to go motocross racing with his son. His son died hunting by the lake due to a gun shot. I fished in the lake and hunted there and yes the Bass were huge!!!! They kept breaking my line and they would bite at anything you threw in the water. There were big drums in the water and the care taker told me thats where the hot spots were. I swam in the lake and didnt think much of it. 20 years later i was diagnosed with cancer. Contact me for more details.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add one more comment about fishing in the Lake. Mr. Robson at the time which was the caretaker did have a boat for us to go fishing on. It was a little row boat with broken wooden oars. Me and my friends fished from that boat and was able to hit every part of that Lake. Someone posted something about crocodile like bass attacking Geese. Well let me put it like this. We fished with hula poppers and the Bass aggressively attached our popper just about every cast. No matter how strong pound test we had for some reason something down there kept breaking our line. From first strike of our lure just as we were trying to real the fish in the line would always snap. This makes sense now after hearing about the crocodile like Bass because im thinking the teeth of the Bass was breaking our line. We also trolled with a 4 to 5 inch rapala and you would not believe what we caught. A sun fish around 12 inches in diameter hit the rapala. I could not believe first of all why a sun fish would hit the rapala but most of all I never saw a 12 inch sunny! This was back in 1985 and its now 2010 I can only imagine what's down there now. I hear that the Robson family is still the caretakers and I am going to go fishing in the summer of 2011.

Anonymous said...

Sadly Mr. Robson has also passed away. I do believe his wife remains on the property. I have fond memories of playing at the lake as a child and watching my dad race motorcycles on the ice.

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog and wanted to know if anyone has done any serious independent research to see what went on at this site. One poster added a link that was helpful but there are some interesting gaps in information. May not be of any significance but I am interested at looking a little deeper to see what I can unearth.
If anyone has some interesting direction suggestions or documents they have found, it would be really helpful.

Anonymous said...

I've been fishing and hiking around Nuclear Lake since the early 90s. (On a walk up last fall I noticed new stone work where the stream runs under the entry road.) I never saw a mutant-fish... but I agree that they are quite big. I also remember a truly massive beaver living at the lake - numerous times I saw the beaver swimming across the lower bank by the stone dam. One summer(about 8-10 years ago) I walked out across the dam and around the other black fence (this area was my favorite fishing spot and I dubbed it "Blue-Gill Corner.") Anyway,I got there and what I saw stopped me in my tracks- there was some orange gooey substance covering the entire spillway - it smelled- there were dead fish floating near the bank. Wasn't sure what it was, it was all over the rocks and trickling down the stream into the woods. Anybody know? (There was a drought that summer, I had never seen the lake that low.) Just curious, always wondered.

Anonymous said...

My best friend was a security guard at the UNC plant... The lake is a beautiful place! I knew Jim the caretaker and the son... what a tragic accident... the neighbor is still caretaking(as of 08), when the explosion happend, I was only 19 or 20... there are other sacred locations up there, different stations... i did see actually people living there, I had been on the island and did see signs of people living there.... a northwest looking glass station is there... yes they did keep it hush hush on the incident at the hospital, yes he was flown out... there are many secrets, and other addional areas not shown on the map persay, ... will continue writing later, didnt see my comment from last week...

Anonymous said...

I had to post hopefully to shed some light first off Jim Robson whom I knew well and was very saddended to hear of his passing in this forum laughed about the barrels which I was told by him and his wife they did not exist. I have seen some posting on this thread and did not notice one person talking about the vehicle that was lost in the lake that was found sometime later and mistook as barrels. It was an old jeep or something of the sort that was driven out on the ice and went through. Jim told me that every so often people would show up all suited up and remove a section of ground here and there but the radiation to quote Jim "you would get more by sitting in front of the TV than by what they found."
I will say this I knew Jim his wife and his son pretty well and never once did I hear tales of giant fish and such non-sense. Personally I find such wild talk to be offensive..I do not believe that there was any major radiation leaks in that area someone would have figured it out by now..
Anyway that is about all I can add.

Brian said...

I am a professor in nuclear physics at Columbia University and though I've lived in upper westchester for 17 years, I never knew about the UNC facility until this morning when I stumbled across Nuclear Lake while checking out a part of the AT that I had never hiked. The name caught my interest as did this blog.

With a little digging on the web, I found an interesting GAO report ( that specifically references the UNC site in Pawling and makes clear that there is residual contamination that exceeds the NRC guidelines based on a study commissioned by the Park Service. The study also mentions 50 unidentified objects at the bottom of the lake that should receive further investigation. It's clear that the study commissioned by the Park Service was limited in scope. To quote the GAO report: "ORAu's project manager responsible for surveying the site believes that additional contamination would have been found if ORAu had conducted a more in-depth survey."

I've worked at a number of National Laboratories around the country, received a non-trivial lifetime dose of radiation, understand radiation in excruciating detail (though not as much its biological effects) so I'm not one to cry wolf about such things. On the other hand, the history of the last century is replete with examples of companies and industries that were negligent in their handling and disposal of radioactive and chemical waste/contamination. - especially when facilities were closed and there was no incentive to spend money on the cleanup. While I would take stories of mutant fish and similar such things with a grain of salt, I would also not trust the organizations responsible for the cleanup and the NRC to be sufficiently diligent in the cleanup.

Thank you for the interesting blog. Now that I know about the site, I'd like to get out there and check it out.

grux said...

D.P.Mott here. I grew up on West Mt. On Penny Road. My father and I use to sneak down to the pond long before the accident to fish.We never kept the fish and fished at night due to the security and fears of being caught. The accident did , I believe kill someone and there seemed to be a cover up about all that went on there. The ambulance that carried the victim to the hospital was rumored to be buried on the property.And yes, several people died of cancer in the area. My younger sisters' first born died due to an incomplete skull formation.I have not lived there for over 40 years but plan to check it out again now that i have renewed interest it the site.

Anonymous said...

I've been fishing there for the past ten years and never seen any mutant bass or wildlife.I be lying if I told you its not in the back of my mind about what happened there and if it is safe to be fishing or even up there.What I can tell you is there are a lot of different species of fish in the lake such as largemouth bass,yellow belly perch,sunny's and pickerel.I've also seen turtles,couple beaver's as well as many snakes.There are many species of birds surrounding the lake.From what I was told the lake had been drained and cleaned a few times as well,who knows how true that is.....I would hate to know that a place so peaceful and beautiful can be so dangerous.If anyone can tell me if it is safe to be there or not it would be much appreciated to know.And last I was told by the Dep that everything seems to be ok,how true that is who knows.....

Anonymous said...

My uncle was a security guard there in the early 60's and we would fish there catching some very large bass.We were'nt allowed to keep them because he said the water was not "right" and he saw strange things there at night.I also hunted deer there in the70's and remember an unusual amount of animal bones that are not normal in the woods.I'm hoping to get up there this fall just to look around and maybe try fishing.Can you drive in or do you have to walk in from the main road.In any event it should be a interesting trip

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting yet sacred place. On 2 occasions out of the dozens of times I have been there, I saw People (kinda being careful) transporting stuff to the Nuclear Lake Island... You know, the island that is on the lake itself..? It was a medium sized row boat, with 4 people and they had some sort of stuff.. I had seen them at the corner of the lake... Upon the Next time I saw someone a man with a beard (AT Hiker ??) with a backpack, a doctor whom was a MD claimed they were living on the Island with 2 other females doing research of areas (nice looking woman) with a young man with reddish/brown hair.. dont know whom they are... but They had left behind a Map that read look glass station 2... there is something (sacred) or different spots/ places that are happening. Im 48 and I have never seen odd stuff like this. Someone named Jacob runs the Island.. and they know that when its night they are more safe, note this was almost when it was turing dark. I had seen the caretaker with the red truck and they know it as well... there s trail built to that nice red barn and recently someone has been in to take out goods or supplies... also is it illegal to have a rifle up there? thanks Stan

Anonymous said...

anyone see anything odd? does anyone know a man named Jacob or a doctor named Juliet?.. Thanks Stan... by the way, they are familiar with the red barn and the property on the other side very well.. theres a second and third root cellular built at the lake according to the looking glass station map..... im confused?? thanks Stan

Anonymous said...

I would like to contact "Brian". You my son has a rare and unexplainable form of lung cancer. He's grown up 1.5 miles away from that site and my fear would be our well water was contaminated. If that's possible? You said you understand radiation and its affects.

Anonymous said...

i have lived in poughquag since 1978 and from the local at that time heard about nuclear pond. didnt know what was true. i live on the east side in a low swamp area next to us. what made me do some investagating is our water report required to be done by our landlord. shows uranium radium and barium in our water. The reort shows low level,health dept never requires the land lord to do any special testing or filtering ,but i was concerned with long term ingestion. i remembered the pond i see this blog. makes me worried that my miscarraige was not so accidental. what doctors around here are even aware of this environmental hassard. the coverup the deception just awful. what kind of coverup will happen when they start that im the old timer so many new people have moved in ,they dont know the rumors. im surprised the toll brothers havent built condos on the property

Anonymous said...

ithjnk its time we got together and look into this together as a communtie and get some answers to what Is really fhe truth!

Unknown said...

I grew up in stormville. I am 53 now. When I was 47 I was dx with grade 2- stage 4 NH lymphoma. There is not a stage 5. My dr said it's rare for someone under 65 to have my type of cancer. I remember the pond and all the barrels. Wonder if my cancer could be from there ? I moved out of state when I was 19 yrs old. said...

My family lived a few houses up from UNC when the explosion happened. My parents and neighbors actually remember going outside and there was a green tint haze above our home. Since then my father has died of cancer Hodgkins and Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. My mother has had cancer twice and I just had a bi lateral mastectomy before the age of forty. Almost ever resident that lived on the road at the time of the explosion has either had cancer or has died of cancer. Pawling has one of the highest rates of cancer in the state and has one of the highest rates of rare cancers. Our dogs even died of cancer. Nothing ever grew at Nuclear Lake. You would drive by on Route 55 and look into an eery barren swamp. Trees were always bare no matter the season.

Tony Pignataro said...

They do drain the lake now and then. I have been up there on more then one occasion when the lake was empty. Someone above asked about that and I just wanted to clarify that I have seen it drained. said...

Re: cancer incidence in the vicinity of nuclear lake: While it is certainly a possible there was exposure to plutonium or breakdown products nearby- we need to realize there are high levels of radon in the rocks and soil of this region. It's in well water, basements and buildings. Long-term exposure is linked to various cancers. I also wonder about Whaley Lake. That's where all the drainage from Nuclear Lake goes. Any contamination/exposures there - or in Whaley lake's feeder stream?
Someone mentioned orange goop on the lake's spillway- The rock in this area has lots of iron (often found in local well water) and typically freshwater algae clumpsd form which will trap the iron oxide which is a bright orange color. Has anyone tested a Nuclear Lake bass for radiation?
Also, Swamps (perhaps caused by road construction or beavers damming up a stream preventing runoff) kill trees, which stand for years because ants and termites can't get to the trees so they'll only be broken down by fungus or dry rot. Dead trees look a bit desolate, sure.

Peter Melzer said...

After reading the Yankee Magazine story, a similar prompt criticality accident that occurred in Japan in 1999 comes to mind:
I quote from this report:

“The accident was classified by the Japanese authorities as Level 4 on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Nuclear Event Scale (INES)*, indicating an event without significant off-site risk. It was essentially an ‘irradiation’ accident, not a ‘contamination’ accident, as it did not result in any significant release of radioactive materials.”

But read further:

“The three workers concerned were hospitalised, two in a critical condition. One died 12 weeks later, another 7 months later. The three had apparently received full-body radiation doses of 16-20,000, 6-10,000 and 1-5000 millisieverts (about 8000 mSv is normally a fatal dose), mainly from neutrons. Another 24 JCO workers received up to 48 mSv. Doses for 436 people were evaluated, 140 based on measurement and 296 on estimated values. None exceeded 50 mSv (the maximum allowable annual dose), though 56 plant workers exposed accidentally ranged up to 23 mSv and a further 21 workers received elevated doses when draining the precipitation tank. Seven workers immediately outside the plant received doses estimated at 6 – 15 mSv (combined neutron and gamma effects). For members of the public, estimates are that one received 24 mSv, four 10-15 mSv, and 15 received 5-10 mSv.
The peak radiation level 90 metres away just outside the nearest site boundary was 0.84 mSv/hr of gamma radiation, but no neutron levels were measured at that stage. The gamma reading then dropped to about half that level after nine hours at which stage 4.5 mSv/hr of neutron radiation was measured there, falling to about 3 mSv/hr after a further two hours, and then both readings falling to zero (or background for gamma) at 20 hours from the start of the criticality.

Neutron dose rates within one kilometre are assumed to be up to ten times the measured gamma rates. Based on activation products in coins from houses near the plant boundary and about 100 m from the reaction, it was estimated that some 100 mSv of neutron radiation would have been received by any occupants over the full period of the criticality. However, the evacuation of everyone within 350 metres of the plant had been ordered 5 hours after the start of the accident. The final report on the accident said that the maximum measured dose to the general public (including local residents) was 16 mSv, and the maximum estimated dose 21 mSv.
While 160 TBq of noble gases and 2 TBq of gaseous iodine were apparently released, little escaped from the building itself. After the criticality had been terminated and shielding was emplaced, radiation levels beyond the JCO site returned to normal.

Only trace levels of radionuclides were detected in the area soon after the accident, and these were short-lived ones. Products from the area would have been as normal, and entirely safe throughout. Radiation levels measured by the IAEA team in residential areas in mid October were at the normal background levels. Measurement of I-131 in soils and vegetation outside the plant showed them to be well under levels of concern for food.”

The buildings at Nuclear Lake were in all likelihood less sealed than the facilities in Japan. Large quantities of radioactive gases may have been released directly into the environment during the criticality. Residents nearby were not evacuated and may have been exposed to greater doses.

Peter Melzer said...

I forgot to mention the similarities in description that suggest that a criticality accident similar to the ones at Tokaimura and Wood River Junction may have occurred at Nuclear Lake, are the reports by commenters above of severe burn injuries, that is "one guy's watch was melted right to the bone", and of "green tint haze" in the air.

One way to find out whether a criticality actually happened is to have silver coins and household items that were in nearby homes at the time of the accident or silver jewelry that was worn by the residents tested for radioactive isotopes of silver. As mentioned above a criticality releases neutrons. Stable isotopes of silver capture neutrons, and transmute (turn) into radioactive ones, the decay of which can be detected.

Peter Melzer said...

Does anyone know what happened to the Nuclear Lake worker whose forearms were so badly burned?

Anonymous said...

Worked there during the cleanup. Some one asked about the worker that got burned from the explosion. He was back to work at the facility in a few months. He did, however get severely contaminated. There is no tunnel, no unusual fish, no one was killed. The explosion was in the Research lab not the Reactor bldg. Nothing was thrown in the lake while I worked there, the guys I worked there used to fish the lake during lunch (I doubt they ate the fish however). No cars were in the lake as a result of the "incident". After we were through cleaning the building, knowing what I know, I would have never been convinced of the cleanliness unless the building and the soil around the building were removed. The scary part is that the contamination was from Plutonium which has a very long half-life.

Peter Melzer said...

The injured technician's name was Kevork Parseghian. He was 30 at the time of the accident according to AP and could be still around. I wonder what contaminants (e.g. radionuclides) other than plutonium were found in and around the lab building.

SimplyInfo said...

We are interested in talking to people who lived in the area or worked at the Pawling facility during operation or decommissioning. You can contact me at

Nancy Foust

Unknown said...


I just read your December post about UNC Nuclear Lake.

I was a resident of Pawling and Poughquag during the UNC era. I fished the lake with my friend Steve Jasmin. My dad had cancer that was successfully removed. My mother had numerous friends in Pawling that had cancer. She always wondered if the accident at the facility had any correlation to the cancers her friends had succumbed to. Both parents are still alive and live in Virginia.

Bruce A. Schluderman


Peter Melzer said... collected extensive information on the lab's activities and some, but not all, detail on the cleanup efforts after closure. I can sum up a few items:
The lab applied for a license in the 1950s for R&D work on nuclear fuel. The risk assessment required in the application asserted that no fissionable material would leave the reservation after release in the worst accident scenario.

This license was frequently amended with supplements during the 1960s. A planned full license renewal never happened. On multiple occasions the company requested increases in the amount of fissionable material that could be stored and processed in the facility, while the emphasis of the work shifted from R&D to manufacture of fuel pellets. Early on, the hot lab consisted of two sections: an alpha lab and a gamma lab. Fuel pellets of uranium and plutonium oxide were manufactured in sealed glove boxes in the alpha lab, whereas irradiated fuel rods were reprocessed for examination in hot cells in a vault in the gamma lab.

By 1970 the building had been enlarged and the gamma lab had been converted into an extension of the alpha lab. The final accident in which Mr. Parseghian was injured, and an earlier one in which plutonium was spilled without direct injuries, happened in the original section of the alpha lab. The final accident is not documented well. It is clear, though, that a major explosion and fire occurred after the staff had evacuated the building, retreating to the caretaker's residence. Investigators returning hours later found extensive damage, windows blown out, doors to the outside ajar. Most radioactive contamination outside was found near the lakeside wall of the building where the windows were blown out.

In their accident report the company claimed that the explosion inside the glove box, where Mr. Parseghian was polishing fuel pellets for microscopic examination, was caused by a chemical reaction of organic solvent with air that was not supposed to be in the box. The box's atmosphere was supposed to be inerted with nitrogen. The supply line had failed.

No explanation is provided for the second, larger explosion that started the fire and blew windows out. That explosion most certainly released most radioactivity from the building. No solid evidence available to date supports a criticality accident, which may not mean it did not happen. At the least, the second explosion might have released radioactive material through the building's stack high in the air, and hot spots of fallout may have formed on the ground at distance from the building.

I should add that laboratory personnel must have been unnecessarily exposed to gamma radiation during the 1960s. The radiation surveys conducted years after operation ceased still found hotspots of high Cs-137 radioactivity in the old gamma lab and in the storage shed. That leads me to a final word about potential barrels in the lake. Standard practice entailed to collect radioactive wastewater in barrels in the storage shed, to eventually dilute the content below government limits, and to empty the barrels into the lake.

Another source of potential lake water contamination may have been a fixed drain pipe to the lake from a septic tank in which the lab's sewage water was collected. Later tests did not uncover contamination, but who know what you would find, if you examined the lake sediment at the end of this line.

Reviewing the documents simplyinfo obtained, an increasing lack of oversight of Nuclear lake seems to have taken hold over the years of operation as ownership changed. At the time of Mr. Parseghian's accident, the owner maintained several labs in the area. Senior managers seemed spread thin and only present on location when certain work was done.

Chris Cassone said...

I am a writer living in LA and Patterson. I am also a trail runner and became fascinated with this story. So much so that I am in the middle of a screenplay/novel with the accident and its lore (read: mythology) the backdrop for the action. I would like to get contact info from some of you who commented above so we could talk off line. This will NOT be a documentary, although after the success of Chernobyl on HBO I bet several pop up. Please contact me at ccassone (then the "AT" sign) then GEE mail and then dot and com.
Again, mine will be a thriller along the lines of Super 8 and Blair Witch but with older post-college kids.
By the way, don't miss "Chernobyl".