Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory

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Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Jan 31, 2009
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I learned of this from its mention in a book about Chernobyl and that it was an unshielded 10 Megawatt reactor stored underground which was remotely raised above ground for radiation dosage effects tests. Dead insects and birds littered the ground. Some fell mid-flight. Now that's "radioactive"...

Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory

The Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory, also known as AFP No. 67, for Air Force Plant 67 was a United States Air Force test facility located in the Dawson Forest in Dawsonville, Georgia. It was the site of Lockheed's lab for investigating the feasibility of nuclear aircraft. The site was used for irradiating military equipment, as well as the forest to determine the effect of nuclear war, and its effects on wildlife. The area was closed in 1971 and acquired by the city of Atlanta for a second airport, but its topography was determined to be ill-suited for an airport. Documents explaining what went on at the site remain highly classified, and the entrance to the underground portion of the facility has been buried. The only objects left above ground were the concrete foundations on which the buildings and reactors were placed.

When the Cold War Came to Dawsonville

Most North Georgia residents had no idea that Lockheed was operating an “air-shielded” nuclear reactor on the Dawson Forest site. An “air-shielded” reactor is a nuclear reactor that is physically hoisted into the open air when operational and returned to its “storage-pool” ( in this case a concrete pool built into a natural ” hollow” on the property ) when not in use. It should be noted that each time the reactor was operational, the area surrounding the reactor was irradiated along with the intended “target.”

The effects of irradiation on the surrounding area prompted new tests. Studies by the University of Georgia, Emory University and The Atomic Energy Commission were conducted. These studies examined the effects to wildlife and the surrounding vegetation when exposed to massive doses of radiation. The results of these experiments were devastating to all living things in the test area. Thus, the rumors of mutant animals flourished.

Nuclear scientists began to understand that different materials took on new qualities once irradiated. This new series of testing led to the formation of Lockheed Nuclear Products. Various products were transported on rail cars to the reactor site, irradiated, then sent to the cooling site. One such product was wood. Ordinary pine was injected with a resin, then irradiated. The resulting product was marketed under the name “Lockwood.” It is said that this wood was used as flooring in the Atomic Energy Commission facility in Maryland.

In June of 1959, and again in August of 1960, the forest area surrounding the reactor was subjected to lethal doses of radiation for weeks at a time. The reactor was only shut down on weekends and during employee shift changes. The effects of this irradiation became quite obvious to the surrounding environment. During the two years after the tests and at a distance of one mile from the reactor, tree growth was impeded and loss of foliage, leaf and bud production occurred. Wildlife was all but eliminated from the area.

Lockheed closed the facility at the end of 1971. Only a few above ground remnants of the GNAL remain today. Some of the building foundations and the hot-cell building, with its forty-eight inch thick steel and concrete walls
[which, I'd bet, was the special type of shielding concrete containing lead or steel shot - W], are still standing. The hot cell building was sealed due to contamination concerns and is surrounded by two fences. This building is considered one of two “hot spots” that remain on the site. The reactor site is also sealed and fenced in due to contamination and public safety concerns.