Union boss alleges DOE plans to bury contaminated building and equipment at A-plant site

By Tom Corrigan - [email protected]

And the hits keep coming…

Just a short time after the Village of Piketon passed a resolution demanding more transparency in the construction of an on-site disposal facility at the defunct Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, John Knauff, president of United Steel Workers, Local 1–689, has weighed in with further fears about what could be headed for the on-site landfill.

In a letter to Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Dept. of Energy, Knauff complained the private company contracted by DOE to deconstruct the massive former uranium enrichment plant now has plans that will result in the burial on-site of many materials – allegedly contaminated materials – from what is known as building X-326, which was used for high levels of uranium enrichment.

“The company (Flour BWXT or FBP) has recently notified us that the DOE has moved up isolating (cutting off all utilities) in the X-326 … Which means whatever is left in the building at that time will be placed in the waste cell,” Knauff wrote in his letter to Perry.

Knauff contends the building still contains a large amount of process equipment once used for high level, or assay, uranium enrichment. He further argues the building contains a large amount of transuranics, which according to a Google search, usually refers to high level radioactive waste. Knauff does note the presence of transuranic waste was normal for that building.

“There are also large quantities of other very hazardous materials such as PCBs remaining in the building, all of which will go uncontrollably into the waste cell if not removed before the building is isolated,” Knauff wrote. “In addition, because of the manner in which FBP removed certain equipment, they have made the entire 30 acres of the upstairs of X-326 (an)highly contaminated and airborne contamination area.”

Knauff alleges all that contamination “will be cast to the wind during large equipment demolition and likely contaminate areas of the plant site and surroundings not previously contaminated.”

The union leader goes on to blast the company’s plans as a “grave injustice” to persons who worked at the plant and continue to live in the immediate area.

Knauff notes the United Steelworkers have represented the hourly workforce at the plant from its beginning in 1953. He further notes the union has steadily opposed plans for the on-site disposal facility.

“I know that you and others have toured the destruction and demolition in progress; however, our members know you were not given a real picture,” Knauff asserts, but one that was “cleansed and cosmetic.”

Not surprisingly, local activist and president of Portsmouth-Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS), Vina Colley, also came out against the plans for the X-326 building. In a letter to Anne Marie White, Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, DOE, Colley among other things, once more contends the waste disposal facility is to be built on fractured bedrock. The latter is a contention disposal facility opponents have made repeatedly. It is also one DOE consistently has denied and refuted by DOE.

Piketon Village officials claim DOE and other bureaucracies involved in planning for the disposal site are doing so without any input from local officials or citizens. Piketon leaders along with numerous village and city councils from around the area already have passed resolutions opposing what DOE calls an on-site disposal facility but opponents routinely refer to as a “radioactive waste dump.”

According to a press release from Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer, the disposal facility, now under construction, is set to contain about 1.5 million cubic yards of nuclear, hazardous and toxic waste generated by ongoing decontamination and decommissioning efforts at the mammoth, shuttered, diffusion plant.

“This is common sense,” Spencer continued. “Who in their right mind doesn’t believe the public should know what kind and how much radioactive and hazardous wastes are being put into their community?”

Spencer made his comments prior to any public revelations regarding building X-326.

Responding to the contentions of Piketon officials, DOE spokesperson Yvette Cantrell denied the village has been frozen out of the ongoing decision process.

“During the CERCLA ( Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, often referred to as the Superfund Act) process for waste disposal alternatives, the DOE used multiple outreach pathways to invite public input to the decision process,” Cantrell said in an email.

“After the decision was finalized in 2015, DOE moved forward to develop project documents necessary to implement the decision. The WACIP (waste acceptance criteria implementation plan) is one of those documents.”

Cantrell promised details as to how the plan, along with other upcoming documents, mix into the overall cleanup of the Piketon site will be part of an upcoming, ongoing series of public information sessions.

“The next set of public information sessions is scheduled for mid-November,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell did not respond to a request for further comment for this story. Perry’s office also could not be reached for comment.

By Tom Corrigan

[email protected]