A ride to and history of the GA Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by flux_capacitor, Nov 11, 2008.

  1. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    Dawson County. Lots of strange things here. :nod
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    What we are about to delve into is to me a fascinating subject, and the fact that all this transpired a mere 15 or 20 minutes from our house is the most amazing thing of all.

    Many metro Atlantans have at least heard about the fact that Atlanta Hartsfield Airport (or Hartsfield Jackson as you are supposed to call it now :csm ) has owned property somewhere in North GA to supposedly one day build a 2nd Atlanta Airport on. Well, that property is called the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, otherwise known as the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory, and also known as Air Force Plant #67.
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  2. knybanjo

    knybanjo kinda slow

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    I am officially skeered. :eek1


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  3. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    In the beginning of the 1950's, the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory (or GNAL) was built with the goal of creating a nuclear propulsion system designed to go into military aircraft. This was a collaboration between Lockheed Martin, the USAF, and the Atomic Energy Commission. The facility was large, taking up several square miles, and consisted of three separate sites: The hot cell building (which still stands today... more about that later), a cooling site, and the reactor site. A railway system transported materials between the 3 sites.

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    The reactor was a 10 megawatt 'air-shielded' reactor. The reactor was kept inside a concrete pool when not in use and during operation it had to be raised from the pit. The reactor was unshielded when in operation! :eek1 Every time it was used the entire landscape would also become irradiated. According to the research I have done, all plants' foliage was gone after only a few uses.

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    Because of this, all employees had to retreat to underground facilities during operation of the reactor. I have not been able to find an exact recollection of the floorplan of the underground facility, but it is said to be immense. I have read reports stating it is anywhere from 3 to 5 stories deep. There is also an underground parking area as well as tunnels that connect the facilities! Of course, when the lab was decomissioned in the 70's they blockaded every entrance. Something else to note is that because of the water table, during the years the building was in use, water had to be pumped out to keep the building from drowning. Now that 30+ years have gone by since it was operational, the entire building has flooded, creating an expanse of manmade underwater caverns. Again, more on this later. :evil
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  4. sanjoh

    sanjoh Purveyor of Light

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    Who needs a nuke when you have a flux capacitor? Hmmm
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  5. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    :thumb

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  6. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    Research continued for many years on nuclear powered aircraft. This was during the time of the Cold War, and understanding nuclear power was a top priority of the US government. Theoretically, a nuclear powered aircraft would reamin in the air for weeks on end without ever needing to be refueled. However, this plan was never realized. It is said that the big hurdle which could never be jumped was creating a proper firewall and contamination system to protect the pilot from becoming irradiated. Kind of an important obstacle, eh?

    Eventually, as the Cold War neared an end, use of the facility shifted. They started to realize that when certain products became irradiated, they took on new properties. This created Lockheed Nuclear Products, which was most famous for radiating wood, of all things. And junky Pine wood to boot. This new product became known as "Lockwood" as is said to have been used in the flooring of the Atomic Energy Commission in Germantown, Maryland.

    Even with all this craziness I just told you about, it gets even creepier as the years pass. Around 1958 the site became the location of serious radiation studies and even animal experiments. They subjected wildlife to MASSIVE doses of radiation. The most heavily documented involves the releasing of various populations of rats into the fields and forest. After they were released, the reactor was used, then the rats were captured and the effects were recorded. Radiation is measured by 'rads'. A lethal dose of radiation for both rats and humans was considered to be between 500 and 650 rads. 7394 rads were released into the environment during this experiment, which took 3 weeks or nearly continuous reactor running. Needless to say the rats suffered a mortality rate of close to 100% among other effects.
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  7. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    But stranger STILL is the fact that the government used Dawson Forest to simulate the effects of a nuclear war!!! :eek1 Radiation doses of up to 'supralethal' were given in a successful effort to recreate nuclear war without the effects of the heat and blasts assosciated with bombing the place. This was circa 1959 and 1960. Because of the threat of nuclear war with the Soviets, this need to understand our nation's ability to recover from a nuke was at the time a top priority. This had a direct and lasting disastrous impact on the forest. 100,000 rads were absorbed within a thousand foot radius of the reactor, with effects being recorded as far as 4000 feet away.
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  8. Hughlysses

    Hughlysses Long timer

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    Cool stuff- looking forward to reading this one. I've seen at least one TV show on the project and read a fictional book on one of the two U.S. proposals for nuclear aircraft titled "Steam Bird". Wild stuff.

    :lurk
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  9. Dorian

    Dorian huge carbon footprint

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  10. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

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    You have my undivided attention.

    This is gonna be awesome.


    More please....
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  11. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    The complex and facilities were decomissioned in 1970, and the land was sold the city of Atlanta for possible future use as the aforementioned 2nd Atlanta airport. During this time, the DNR has been keeping over the tract, and managing it as a WMA.

    Most all the buildings were knocked down, save the hot cell building. As I mentioned before, the pumping of the water out from the underground facility stopped, flooding the entire underground complex.

    Evidence of this land's legacy still exists.

    This area is popular now with horse riders, hunters, bicyclists, and hikers. Much of the area has become the parking area for these recreationalists.

    Here are some shots of the 'parking area' which used to be structures. All that exists now are the foundations.

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    I am not sure what this building was, but it appears to have been a loading dock of some sort. There is a big ramp, and an indented area which looks like a truck or railbed would back up to it.

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    The top of it has rail lines which are overgrown with weeds.

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    The back side of that platform has some stairs in it.

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    The main 'parking area'. I wonder how many people park here, never knowing what they are walking on. :norton

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  12. Dirtysouth

    Dirtysouth Stud fee waived for noobs

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    That explains why Bill Elliot just won't quit, he's fucked up on radiation.
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  13. GaM

    GaM Long timer

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    I bet there are some X file creatures down there. :eek1
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  14. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    As you move to the back of the parking area you notice a big clearing, with rock formations (I assume for big trailer parking... horse stuff is huge in the forest) and beyond that is a fenced in area which houses the neatest thing.

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    They do NOT want you crossing this fence. Actually, there are 2 fences, one fence inside another fence.

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    This area, my friends, is the only surviving building... the Hot Cell building.

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    You can walk all around it, and actually get pretty close, but it is hard to get an unobstructed view of it. There are actually a few little buildings surrounding it that are harder to see.

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    This little building... I do not know what to make of it. It is raised up like a deck, but I can't tell if there is emptiness underneath or solid earth. I am thinking maybe an underground safety bunker but who knows?

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  15. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    You couldn't PAY me enough to go in there. More on that in a bit! :evil
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  16. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    So, a little info on the Hot Cell building. As I mentioned, this was the one building they did not tear down. The blame lies on the incredible effort and expense it would take to knock down 48 inch thick steel and concrete walls. :eek1 All openings have been sealed with concrete blocks and steel plates. The 2 fences are there to deter people from getting a closer look. Radiation gauges are apparently placed around the property (I did not find any though) to monitor the remaining traces of Cobalt 60 and Europium 152.

    Amazingly, the way they chose to block the three tunnels which lead to the underground facility was somewhat less permanent. They blocked the tunnels with (drumroll please) BULLDOZED MOUNDS OF DIRT. Yes, impenetrable... DIRT. The DNR has had to continuously re-bulldoze the entrances because once in awhile some redneck or crazy conspiracy theorists dig their way into the tunnels.

    And folks, I have actually found some idiots that posted pics of themselves in these tunnels on one of those nutjobs websites. Real conspiracy theorists.... they did not even cover their faces! :lol3 DISCLAIMER: These are NOT my pics, I boosted them from the interweb.

    The underground LAIR! Why in the hell anyone would go in here is beyond me. I guess the curiosity factor is there, but damn!

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  17. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    Well, there is still alot more to Dawson Forest. Keep in mind this place is over 10,000 acres!

    As you head away from the hot cell site, the first interesting thing you come to is an old, narrow, wooden and steel bridge. This was part of the small rail line which was used to move irradiated materials from the reactor site to the cooling area. This was big during the phase of the project "Lockwood" we discussed earlier. If you look close you can see the grooves which housed the rail lines, which are not there anymore.

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    There are also some nice views around here.

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    Some construction going on in the property adjacent. Looks like a water treatment plant. There is a high school next door to that.

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    After the bridge, the next interesting thing is making sure you don't drop your bike into Shoal Creek. :lol3
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    That water is actually alot deeper than you think going in. Standing on the pegs, I looked down for a quick sec and noticed the water was halfway up my shin! Some slippery stones but level underneath, no big deal if you feather the clutch and keep your head up. :ricky
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  18. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    After you ford Shoal Creek, there are several ways to go. Find the roads that take you to the location of the old railway bridges that go over the Etowah River. After the decommission of the GNAL in 1970, both bridges were exploded and only fragments remain. For all intents and purposes, these are referred to as Bridge #1 and Bridge #2. Bridge 1 is further upstream than 2. Bridge #1 is very cool, you can still see the steel skeleton of the suspension part. The bottom is blown out of it, though, and there is no way to cross. The rails are supposedly still in the ground on the other side, I will have to cross one day and find out for sure. Unfortunatly during this report, hunting season is going on, and the hunters have made a big ass base camp at the entrance to Bridge #1 so I could not collect any pics but will at a later date.

    I did get pics of Bridge #2 though, which is nothing more than the concrete pylons the bridge rested on. Still cool though.

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    I do think there are other structures out there that I am overlooking and intend to go back in the next few days to double check I did not miss anything. But really, that is the most part of what you'd find out there.

    Coming up... the area today.
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  19. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    As I mentioned earlier, trace amount of radiation can still be found near the hot cell building. The Environmental Protection Agency has place monitors in areas of question throughout the forest. These monitors are looked at every 3 months. In addition, the Etowah River is tested on a regular basis.

    Still, despite these precautions, Dawson Forest is shaded by mystery and local rumors, not to mention some gruesome facts that made national press not too long ago.

    Some older residents recall the "Red Sky" or "Red Dawn" in 1959. Many Dawson County folks remember thinking that the red sky was the mark of the end of the world. Many families, fearing the apocalypse, gathered inside to pray. To this day it is not known if the deep crimson skies were related to the GNAL's research, but it does seem to correspond with the times of the highest concentration of radiation in the forest.

    Beyond that, locals STILL talk about finding mutated animals in the forest. The most popular story is of the fabled Cyclops Deer. Hunters report seeing deer with 5 legs, extra sets of antlers, and other oddities. Of course, there has been no evidence that I have come across to back these stories up.

    But, there are some very eerie things that HAVE happenned in the forest. The first one to make national headlines was the dissappearance of a little 11 year old boy named Levi Frady. He was abducted near his home on Little Mill Rd in Forsyth County, GA in 1997 and his body was found the next day inside Dawson Forest. To this day the GBI lists his murder as unsolved. Many of you have heard of a 'Levi's Call' otherwise known as Georgia's Amber Alert. This is where the name came from. :cry

    Sadly, the latest story to come out of Dawson Forest is the murder of a young woman named Meredith Emerson, who was abducted on New Year's Day this year from Vogel State Park. She was hiking solo (with her dog) when Gary Hilton abducted and murdered her. He beheaded poor Meredith, and later led authorities to the 2 sites within the forest that he unceremoniously dumped her body. This one struck really close to home for alot of us. They searched the hell out of North GA for her and when this news came around it was all anyone here could talk about. RIP, Meredith.
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  20. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

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    To get back to lightheartedness, alot of things have also come up around the forest. One of them is a new park along the Etowah River and Hwy 9, which offers a canoe launch and a self guided tour. The tour will take you down the river and you will pass some of the landmarks we talked about today.

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    The Hwy 9 bridge near the put in.
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    The Etowah River is home to 76 species of fish which is TWICE as many as ANY other river in the United States!!! It's said to be one of the richest river habitats in the WORLD.

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    Well gang, that is it for this report. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed researching it. :thumb If anyone has any questions, comments, or anything of their own to add please do. There were many sources for information on this subject, but the main one I could not have done this without was entitled "Red Sky in Morning" by Dwayne Keith Petty as found in the magazine "Georgia Backroads", Winter 2007. :nod
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