Portsmouth looks into Piketon conflict, tours plant

By Nikki Blankenship - nblankenship@aimmediamidwest.com

The City of Portsmouth is faced with a decision to make regarding the Department of Energy’s (DOE) gaseous diffusion plant in Piketon.

After being utilized as a uranium enrichment plant for approximately half a century, it was determined the plant had served its purpose and remained a cold war era relic set to be decommissioned and demolished. As part of that process, DOE is constructing an on-site dump to dispose of only three percent of nuclear waste remaining at the site with the remainder to be sent out of state. Though the project began with community support, citizens of Piketon have since withdrawn their support for the project, and Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer has been looking for outside support.

Spencer address Council Monday night asking for support from Portsmouth.

“You may or may not know that the Village of Piketon is in conflict with the DOE over them wanting to build an onsite disposal cell,” Spencer began. “We oppose that. We have opposed that since 2014. The DOE has made false statements all the way from 2014 through today. We’ve exposed many of those.”

Spencer state that the DOE has since had to issue statements agreeing to distributing false information to the public. The Piketon Mayor added that in 2016 Piketon hired an independent party to do a third party assessment.

“He found that the bedrock was deeply fractured underneath this cell,” Spencer said about the third party assessment. “In the public meetings clear back to 2014, they stated that there are no fractures in the bedrock. They buried the information in a 4,000 page report, but who’s going to read that.”

Spencer provided Council with a copy of the third party assessment and asked that they consider passing a resolution standing with Piketon as other local governments have recently done.

With the plant being demolished, there were three options for the community — to leave the structures and waste and shut the site down, clean it up for future use with some waste disposed of on site or to send all waste off-site. Five million cubic yards of waste will remain on site, only three percent of total waste. In making these determinations, Public Relations and Communications Manager Jason Lovins explained that the site looked at the best location for such disposal, the best way to house the underground disposal facility and what kind of waste could be housed in the disposal cells. According to the DOE, waste to remain on site is the least radioactive/hazardous material onsite.

Council agreed to look into the conflict between the parties while also considering the health and safety of the community. As part of that effort, members of Portsmouth City Council toured the site and spoke with leading scientists regarding the underground disposal facility being built.

While on the tour, City officials learned of the plant’s history and traveled by shuttle across the site big enough to be the nucleus of a small city. On site, the plant has its own power plants and water distribution.

As the tour concluded, Council members had an opportunity to view models of how the disposal cells will be housed in order to ensure that there is not contamination and thus hazard to nearby residents or water sources.

The location of the disposal facility is on top a hill. It will include a 10 foot cover that includes natural material to ensure rain water runs off and is never able to penetrate to disposal cells which will house the contaminants. Beneath the structure will also be another 10 foot system designed to prevent contaminants from draining and contaminating outside areas and water supplies. It also includes man-made and natural items meant to be impenetrable. The system also includes drains so that if contaminants drain from the cells into the ground beneath, it is drained off to be filtered and treated without contaminating water or soil outside the cell.

Before leaving the tour, Council members took a look at the actual facility location where dirt is already being moved.

Portsmouth City Council will meet again at 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 11 in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building on Second Street.

By Nikki Blankenship


Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.