PIKETON — On Tuesday, the village of New Boston became the latest local community whose legislative leaders are formally objecting to construction of an on-site waste facility at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, more commonly known as the A-plant.
The resolution aligns New Boston with similar opposition passed in Portsmouth, Piketon, Chillicothe and Jackson.
According to Yvette Cantrell, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Energy (DOE), the opposition may in fact be too little too late to block the on-site waste facility, which is already under construction. The reason is a record of decision (ROD) approving what’s technically known as an on-site waste disposal facility already has been okayed by regulators, including the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the DOE. To reopen the ROD, Cantrell said the DOE would need to receive documentation of problems serious enough to warrant revisiting the initial decision.
“I’m not saying it can’t happen,” Cantrell added, but said she has never seen a ROD reopened during 25 years with the DOE. She described the process leading to any ROD as long and complicated, as well as one allowing plentiful public input.
“It’s not done in a vacuum,” Cantrell continued. “The DOE is not going to do anything to jeopardize the health and safety of its workers or the community in general. If there is a fatal flaw with the plan, DOE wants to know that.”
New Boston Mayor Junior Williams was out of the office and unavailable for immediate comment for this story.
Since the defunct uranium enrichment plant sits in Piketon, as would the planned waste disposal facility, that community might have the biggest interest in what happens regarding the 3,700 acres of Cold War leftovers. Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer was out of the office for personal reasons and, like Williams, unavailable for immediate comment. Piketon Village Hall did provide a copy of the resolution opposing the storage facility which was passed by legislators there in January.
“As the host community and supporter of DOE’s mission at the Portsmouth site, the village of Piketon endures a number of challenges, including the stagnation of our populations, deteriorating infrastructure and perhaps even lost additional business opportunities due to the perception of being a ‘contaminated community that glows’,” the resolution reads in part.
In this instance, the “DOE’s mission” is presumed to be the demolition of the plant and the reutilization of the site for commercial, industrial purposes.
The Piketon resolution makes generous reference to an independent study of the plant demolition process and the presumably simultaneous environmental cleanup. That study was completed in July 2017 by the Ferguson Group, an advocacy and consulting firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. Judging from a letter sent to the U.S. EPA from Ferguson, the biggest problem discovered by consultants involves fractured bedrock beneath the site of the planned disposal facility.
Among other contentions, in their letter, Ferguson argues that because of the supposedly porous nature of the bedrock, the proposed site cannot meet federal regulations requiring so many feet of separation between the bottom of the disposal facility and any existing groundwater. The Ferguson Group argues the ROD was based on inaccurate statements in a DOE report regarding the degree of fractured bedrock documented to exist on the property in question. Piketon’s resolution of opposition specifically asks DOE to respond to the findings of the Ferguson Group. Piketon officials also asked for further dollars to pay for future third-party studies of the plant site.
During a recent tour of the Piketon plant, DOE officials readily admitted to The Daily Times there is fractured bedrock beneath the proposed site of the storage facility. However, DOE scientist J.D. Chiou contends careful studies show there is no clear path from where fill material will be located to any water table. Chiou and at least one other DOE official further describe the storage facility as a sealed vault, one which will stay sealed for 1,000 years. Three double-walled pipes are intended to collect any liquid that may somehow escape containment.
In addition to the various municipal councils, there is plenty of grassroots opposition to the waste disposal facility. Vina Colley is a former plant worker and outspoken president of Portsmouth-Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS). Colley has numerous objections to the on-site disposal plan, including pointing repeatedly to the existence of fractured bedrock. Colley also claims the site being used for the storage facility is contaminated with plutonium, and alleges workers at the site are not being told of that contamination. DOE’s Jud Lilly did not hesitate to admit there was plutonium in the Piketon plant, a facility primarily used to increase the radioactivity of uranium. The same process was completed on any plutonium brought to Piketon.
Colley alleges the DOE kept the presence of plutonium in the plant a secret until as recently as four months ago, additionally claiming even then DOE officials said the plutonium present was diluted.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931