Local activist launches online petition to stop A-plant waste facility

By Tom Corrigan - tcorrigan@aimmediamidwest.com

Well-known local activist and former worker at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Vina Colley is attempting to take nationwide her quest to block construction of an on-site waste disposal facility at the defunct Piketon uranium enrichment facility.

With the help of a national nonprofit group, the Food & Water Action Fund, Colley has launched an online petition asking the federal Department of Energy to reopen the record of decision (ROD) which cleared the way for construction of the permanent disposal facility, or landfill, on the grounds the Piketon plant.

As the disposal facility will hold debris from demolition of the diffusion plant, vocal opponents routinely refer to the facility as a radioactive garbage dump. Those opponents include numerous Village of Piketon officials and others.

A DOE spokesperson has said on several occasions reopening the ROD is the only way to stop construction of the disposal facility which would stay in place even after the rest of the plant is demolished and what DOE officials say will be the decontaminated land turned over for private redevelopment. DOE also has said reopening the ROD is highly unlikely.

The Food & Water web page declares “The Department of Energy and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency have let down the people of Appalachia and are about to let radioactive waste polluter groundwater.

“A shuttered uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, OH has left the community with higher than average rates of cancer and other health issues,” the site continues. “Now, officials want to decommission the plant and keep the waste right on site, but the bedrock beneath it is fractured. When the dump leaks, the contaminants would be released into the Ohio River as well as groundwater resources.”

Visitors to the website then are asked to give their names, an email address, street address and a phone number. The petition specifically calls on DOE’s Ann Marie White to reverse the ROD and “provide a scientifically sound alternative with community input.”

Colley said she is uncertain at this point how many people have signed a petition. In addition to the petition, she added she is actively seeking some legal means to block construction of the waste disposal facility. Another vocal opponent of the disposal plan, Piketon Village Councilman Dennis Foreman also is tied to the petition on various Facebook pages with links to the petition.

Colley’s biggest complaint regarding the waste disposal facility might be her repeated contention it is being built on fractured bedrock which could allow liquid leakage from the unit to reach underground aquifers and ultimately nearby rivers, namely, the Ohio and the Scioto. DOE officials repeatedly have argued there is no way for leakage from the site to reach underground waterways.

Although the meetings were heavily criticized as insufficient to deal with the issue of the disposal facility, DOE is in the process of holding four of what they call community open houses to discuss not just the disposal facility but the ongoing demolition of the diffusion plant. One such meeting was held in Portsmouth last week; another is planned for this evening in Waverley.

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. At last week’s Portsmouth open house, Fluor scientist J.D. Chiou readily admitted the bedrock 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 and DOE’s Johnny Reising 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. According to DOE, no liquid waste can be stored in the disposal facility.

For her part, Colley is thoroughly unimpressed with the arguments of Chiou and DOE. Colley is a president and spokesperson for the grassroots group Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS.) In an email to the Times, she said the PRESS group first blew the whistle about fractured bedrock beneath the Piketon plant in 2005. She is insistent vertical and horizontal fractures easily will allow any liquid leakage from the dump site to reach underground aquifers.

Colley also takes issue with DOE and Fluor on other topics related to the plant, notably including the presence of plutonium at the site. DOE officials never have denied to the Times there is plutonium present at the Piketon site. However, Colley alleges the amounts of plutonium and the accompanying radioactivity are much higher than have been made known publicly by DOE.

DOE’s next open house is 2-7p.m. at the Pike County YMCA, 400 Pride Dr. A Chillicothe meeting is Thursday at the Riverview Conference Center inside the Christopher Inn, 30 N. Plaza Blvd.

By Tom Corrigan