Despite opposition and complaints over the way it is being handled, demolition of the defunct Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon continues.
On Thursday at the Scioto County Welcome Center, the federal Department of Energy held one of four so-called “open houses” to discuss issues surrounding the ongoing demolition and decontamination of the huge former uranium enrichment plant, essentially a gigantic Cold War left over.
Despite ongoing complaints coming from various quarters, the open house was sparsely attended, with only one member of the general public showing up during the two and a half hours a reporter for the Daily Times was in attendance. As the session was scheduled to run until 7 p.m., it is entirely possible more folks showed up later in the day. One official also suggested an open house slated for Tuesday in Waverley in Pike County might attract more interest as it is closer to the location of the plant. Nevertheless, on Thursday, DOE and other officials related to the plant were on hand to answer various questions surrounding the demolition as well as construction of the controversial on-site waste disposal facility, referred to by opponents as a radioactive waste dump.
The open house itself did not arrive without controversy. Piketon Village Councilwoman Jennifer Chandler and others blasted the idea of an open house as an insufficient venue to discuss ongoing plans for the on-site disposal facility. Chandler accused DOE of trying to hide from the public what will go into the waste disposal facility.
“This same waste would require characterization before shipping off-site for disposal, but in Piketon this waste will be dumped and buried in a waste site unchecked, keeping hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste in southern Ohio forever,” Chandler said in an email.
In her opinion, a proper “public meeting” would allow for interested persons to ask questions and gain specific answers all on the record. Local activist Elizabeth Lamerson blasted DOE over what she insisted are the differences between a formal public meeting and the workshops held and planned by DOE.
“A public meeting allows questions to be asked and documented and an answer is required that will also be documented,” Lamerson claimed, echoing some of Chandler’s thoughts.
“DOE’s information sessions are public meetings, where attendees are encouraged to ask questions and learn about the projects from the personnel doing the work at the site,” wrote DOE spokesperson Yvette Cantrell in an email to the Times.
On Thursday, DOE, site contractors and others connected with the demolition project had perhaps a dozen or more persons on hand to answer questions. No one was keeping track of what questions were asked or answered. No one appeared to be keeping track of who was in attendance.
Setting aside questions regarding the informational session itself, the Daily Times did obtain feedback on several issues raised by DOE’s critics.
Opposition to the on-site waste disposal facility continuously argues the site of the facility sits on broken bedrock possibly allowing contaminated leakage into underwater aquifers.
Flour BWXT is the private contractor charged by DOE with the demolition of the plant, which at this point includes construction of the on-site disposal facility.
On Thursday, Fluor scientist J.D. Chiou readily admitted the bedrock immediately beneath the waste disposal site is fractured. However, he also said those fractures only go down some 20 feet, beneath which is a very much nonporous layer of essentially solid rock. Chiou showed off pictures of the excavation site which clearly showed differences in colors in the ground being dug. Upper layers were red, which the Fluor scientist said showed water leakage had taken place. Beneath that layer was a silver layer Chiou said no water had really reached for many, many years. Chiou stated pressure created by the nearby Scioto River actually forces water into the upper layers of earth away from lower lying bedrock.
DOE’s Johnny Reising stated there are horizontal fractures in the silver layers, but he added there is no way for water to make it through those fractures to underlying aquifers. Both he and Chiou further talked about a thick, very much nonporous liner which will sit on the bottom of the disposal facility. A leachate system to siphon off any water or liquid will be in place long before any waste arrives at the dump site, they added.
Waste Acceptance Criteria
Claims there have been no specifics released to the public regarding what types of materials might go into the new waste disposal facility have been repeated again and again, by several DOE critics, including Piketon village officials such as Lamerson and Mayor Billy Spencer.
“The stuff people are really worried about is going off site, it will not be staying here,” insisted DOE’s Reising. Both he and Chiou compared the disposal facility to a car capable of safely going 150 MPH. However, administrative rules limit speed to 60 MPH. By the choice of its designers, the disposal facility only will travel 20 MPH.
“There is a definite conservatism built into our plans,” Chiou said.
Displays set up around the Welcome Center talked about how only waste from the Piketon plant can by law go into the on-site disposal facility. Among other materials, that waste will include building debris, piping, wiring, structural steel and other similar structural debris. Displays stated hazardous materials will be shipped off-site. One display bragged DOE and/or Fluor has conducted 1.3 million tests for contamination in one site building alone. No liquids are allowed into the disposal facility.
Despite the display stating all hazardous materials would go off site, at one point Thursday, one official admitted asbestos materials from the walls of various plant buildings will go into the disposal facility. That official also added quickly any asbestos will be removed by trained professionals and well wrapped before it goes into the ground.
Still another display talked specifically about what is prohibited from going into the on-site disposal facility. Those materials included, among others, transuranic and high-level wastes; Building 326 (described as one of the most contaminated on-site) converters, compressors and coolers; explosive or reactive wastes; liquids, oils, refrigerants from equipment; and, nuclear compounds greater than 20 percent enrichment.
Reuse of plant property
Over the summer, DOE and Fluor went out of their way to mark handing over to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) 80 acres of the roughly 3,700-acre site. It was the first of many such planned benchmarks as the ultimate idea behind the demolition of the plant is to allow commercial reuse of the property.
SODI is formally what is known as a Community Reuse Organization for the former diffusion plant site.
On Thursday, SODI’s Kevin Shoemaker said marketing of the first available 80 acres is on schedule. “I think we’re doing well,” Shoemaker continued. He stated there has been interest in the property but said he could not go into detail at this time.
Shoemaker further talked about how funds from sale of scrap from a large electric power facility on the property went to four projects in four counties, including Scioto County where dollars went to support an industrial park. In Pike County, money cleared the way for the arrival of a Rural King retail outlet.
The Daily Times plans to attend next week’s DOE information session in Waverley in Pike County. The paper will spotlight further issues regarding the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant following that session.