Despite continuing opposition from various quarters, including numerous elected officials, the U.S. Department of Energy has stated flatly it intends to continue construction of what it calls an on-site waste disposal facility at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, more commonly known as the A-plant in Piketon.
“DOE remains committed to the 2015 regulatory decision to build an on-site waste (disposal) facility on competent bedrock at the extensively studied and reviewed site,” stated DOE spokesperson Yvette Cantrell in an email sent to the Daily Times.
“DOE continues to evaluate information brought forward by stakeholders related to the OSWDF but has found no justification for reopening the record of decision (ROD,)” Cantrell continued.
As previously has been reported, Cantrell and other DOE officials all have said the only way to stop construction of the controversial waste disposal facility is to reopen the ROD approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory authorities.
Essentially, DOE and Flour-BWXT, the private contractors hired to dismantle and clean up the huge diffusion plant site, intend to bury parts of the various site buildings on land adjacent to the former plant. DOE refers to that storage site as just that, a storage site. Opponents usually refer to it as a radioactive waste dump.
Cantrell specifically was responding to criticism of DOE plans put forth by vocal opponent Piketon Village Councilman Dennis Foreman and Jason Shugart, an attorney working as an advisor to Pike County auditor Erica Snodgrass.
With no success so far, Snodgrass has been attempting to collect an additional payment in lieu of taxes for the diffusion plant which has long enjoyed tax-exempt status granted it under the federal Atomic Energy Act.
For his part, Shugart is bluntly and expressly critical of DOE’s plans for the disposal facility.
One common complaint of the opposition to that facility has been allegations the storage site sits on fractured bedrock. Shugart was brusque on that issue, saying only a “colossal moron” or someone who just doesn’t care would build such a facility on fractured bedrock.
Notice Cantrell’s statement specifically refers to the site sitting on “competent bedrock.”
Shugart is blunt on other issues relating to the diffusion plant. He talked extensively of what he alleges is “a network of good old boys” with vested interests in seeing the storage facility or dump built.
“It’s very personal to them,” Shugart said. He adds another claim stating DOE averaged out measurements of the distance between what will be the bottom of the disposal site and the groundwater beneath, claiming that was the only way the project could meet EPA rules. It’s a claim Cantrell specifically denies.
“Groundwater depths under the OSWDF footprint were not averaged to meet EPA guidelines,” Cantrell said.
It could be argued Shugart’s comments need to be looked at with some skepticism. Shugart gave up his license to practice law in Ohio because he said the system is simply too corrupt to work in and, again, run by a network of insiders.
Foreman has been crusading against the storage facility for some time. In addition to being a village councilman, Foreman sits on the Portsmouth Site Specific Advisory Board (SSAB.)
On May 10, the SSAB voted 8-6 in favor of a resolution opposing construction of the storage facility. The SSAB is a stakeholder board that provides advice, information, and recommendations on issues affecting the environmental management program at the Portsmouth plant site, according to them SSAB website. Although the board voted in favor of the resolution, it did not pass because a two thirds majority is needed for passage of the measure. Foreman has been complaining loudly ever since that at least three members of the SSAB should have recused themselves from voting due to various conflicts of interest.
On June 20, an industry journal reported DOE found no evidence its conflict of interest rules were violated when the SSAB voted regarding reopening the ROD for the on-site waste disposal cell. Forman sponsored the resolution opposing the disposal facility or cell. Following the vote, Foreman claimed one SSAB member works directly on the on-site disposal facility.
He added another owns a company which does contracting work at the plant site. Finally, Foreman said a third member admitted during a discussion of the resolution that he was worried about his wife’s job and therefore would not vote in favor of the question. The man’s wife works for Fluor-BWXT.
“SSAB members are not subject to the same federal ethics regulations as federal employees and special government employees,” David Borak of the Office of Chief Counsel at the Field Site wrote in an email to Foreman. However, Borak added DOE expects members to “recuse themselves from decisions and discussions related to real or perceived conflicts of interest, act impartially, and avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
Borak wrote to Foreman shortly after the Piketon councilman first raised concerns about conflicts of interest on the SSAB.
On other fronts, Foreman is pushing DOE to establish a robotics lab at the Piketon site, where various high-tech machines have been used in ongoing demolition of the site’ s huge buildings. Citing what he says is an aging workforce working to demolish the plant, Foreman also wants DOE to sponsor specialized training to help put a younger workforce in place both in Piketon and other DOE cleanup locations around the country.
Early this year, Piketon Village Council passed a resolution opposing the storage facility.
“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, “DOE’s mission” is presumed to be the environmental cleanup of the Piketon plant site. Legislators in Portsmouth, New Boston, Jackson and other area communities have passed similar resolutions. Grassroots opposition most vocally comes from a group known as Portsmouth – Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS.) President Vina Colley alleges the site of the storage facility is contaminated with plutonium and workers there have not been told about that contamination, yet another charge DOE and Fluor-BWXT have denied.