Complaints pile up against planning for demolition of A-plant

By Tom Corrigan

Add the name of Piketon Village Councilwoman Jennifer Chandler to the long list of local officials and activists asking for more openness and transparency in the process leading to creation of a plan intended to govern what types of materials the Department of Energy will allow in the planned permanent on-site waste disposal facility on the grounds of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, more commonly known as simply the Portsmouth A-plant.

In an email sent to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and shared with the Daily Times, Chandler called for an “honest and transparent meeting” on what criteria is or will be in place governing what the controversial disposal facility will accept. Piketon Village Mayor Billy Spencer months ago called for much the same thing and, in fact, Piketon Council passed a resolution seeking input into ongoing decisions regarding the waste facility.

“This is common sense,” Spencer has been quoted as saying. “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?”

OEPA Deputy Director of Communications Heidi Griesmer said her organization has no plans for any public meeting on what is known as the WACIP (waste acceptance criteria implementation plan.) However, as previously announced in September, she said the federal Department of Energy plans several public “workshops” for November.

Griesmer did not have the times or locations for those meetings.

In the meantime, Griesmer said DOE continues to work on an implementation plan for the waste acceptance criteria, or WAC, which was approved when the OEPA signed off on the record of decision (ROD) allowing construction of the permanent waste disposal facility. She added OEPA officials will review and have input on the implementation plan.

As has been well-publicized, numerous elected officials and activists in Piketon, Portsmouth and elsewhere in Scioto County all have called for reopening the ROD. DOE officials have said revisiting the ROD is the only way to stop construction of the waste disposal facility. However, those same officials have said reopening the ROD is highly unlikely.

Responding to the contentions of Piketon officials, DOE spokesperson Yvette Cantrell in the past denied federal officials were freezing local leaders 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 in September.

“After the decision was finalized in 2015, DOE moved forward to develop project documents necessary to implement the decision. The WACIP 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 several requests for comment recently.

In her email, initially sent to Kristopher Weiss of the OEPA Public Interest Center, Chandler contended plant neighbors are located a little over a thousand feet away from the site of the disposal facility. She claimed the radioactivity allowed in the on-site disposal cell is “unlimited” and none of the waste will be sampled before it is buried. Chandler has complaints beyond what might or might not be going into the disposal facility.

“The public also has a right to know what contaminants will be in the air emissions during demolition and disposal activities and how we will be protected from exposure,” Chandler wrote in her email.

She was not immediately available for direct comment.

Chandler is not the first to worry about possibly dangerous emissions created during the demolition of the defunct uranium enrichment plant, essentially a gigantic Cold War left over. President of United Steel Workers, Local 1–689 which represents Piketon plant workers, John Knauff has alleged contamination “will be cast to the wind during large equipment demolition and likely contaminate areas of the plant site and surroundings not previously contaminated.”

Knauff’s union recently passed a resolution formally opposing construction of the on-site waste disposal facility.

In the meantime, Piketon Village Councilman Dennis Foreman has continued his long-standing opposition to the waste disposal facility and has been highly critical of the process leading to the WACIP.

Foreman further remains a devoted critic of the Site-Specific Advisory Board (SSAB,) which he says is intended to work with DOE and contractors on planning demolition of the Portsmouth plant. Foreman long has contended DOE stacked the SSAB in their favor.

“DOE should be embarrassed that they have let this project get this far – and it is definitely not too late to change course and do the right thing.”

By Tom Corrigan