Longtime activist and self-proclaimed whistle blower, Portsmouth resident Vina Colley seems to be the lead organizer of what’s been described as a forum on the ongoing cleanup at the site of the defunct Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, AKA the “A-plant” in Piketon.
Open to the general public, the forum is set for 5-7 p.m., March 19 at the Portsmouth offices of the Scioto County Community Action Organization (CAO,) 342 Second St. The event is sponsored by Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security (PRESS) of which, Colley, a former plant worker, acts as president. The nationwide organizations National Nuclear Workers for Justice (NNWJ) and A Call to Actions also have been listed as sponsors.
A vocal critic of the federal Department of Energy and its cleanup efforts at the Piketon plant, Colley has said next week’s forum will discuss that ongoing cleanup, as well as controversial plans for a permanent on-site waste disposal facility which would store materials and debris from demolished plant buildings. Colley and numerous others, including Village of Piketon and numerous other elected officials, have characterized that disposal facility as a “nuclear waste dump” which would do irreparable harm to Piketon and the surrounding area.
One last announced topic of discussion at the forum will be the federal Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) which in theory helps former Cold War nuclear plant workers, whose number as already noted would include Colley, obtain medical help and compensation for illnesses they allegedly contracted while working at such facilities as the Portsmouth plant. Colley alleges workers need to jump through a nearly endless series of hoops to gain any compensation or medical coverage from the government.
Regarding the proposed waste disposal facility, already under construction, detractors, including Mayor Billy Spencer and the entire Piketon Village Council, all repeatedly have called for reopening the record of decision (ROD) awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency and allowing construction of the disposal facility to legally move forward. So far, the Department of Energy, which owns and operates the Piketon plant site, has steadfastly refused to revisit the ROD.
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. DOE also has said reopening the ROD is highly unlikely. One DOE attorney went so far as to argue reopening the ROD is legally impossible, a comment of which Spencer was highly dismissive.
The biggest complaint of Colley and other disposal facility critics probably is their contention the waste operation is being built on fractured bedrock which allegedly 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.
For her part, Colley is thoroughly unimpressed with the arguments of DOE. In an email to the Times, she said PRESS 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 demolition contractors Fluor BWXT on other topics related to the plant, notably including the presence of plutonium and transuranics at the site. In comments to the Daily Times, DOE officials never have denied plutonium or transuranics are 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.
In early February, Spencer said a letter protesting the waste disposal facility and DOE’s refusal to reopen the ROD was sent to the office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
“Virtually every elected body in southern Ohio has formally objected to this path forward by passing official resolutions, but the U.S. Department of Energy continues to build an enormous dump in Piketon that would put our community at risk and severely impact our ability to grow and attract new businesses to our area,” Spencer wrote. “The U.S. Department of Energy continues to ignore are pleas and the Ohio EPA is considering approving the waste acceptance criteria for the dump that allows unlimited radioactivity.”
DeWine spokesperson Breann Almos said the governor forwarded Spencer’s letter to the Ohio EPA. EPA Director Laurie Stevenson responded with a letter of her own dated Feb. 26.
In that letter, Stevenson outlined numerous activities she claimed the Ohio EPA had undertaken to keep elected representatives as well as the general public informed on activities at the Piketon site as well as giving those same persons the chance to comment on those activities.
“Ohio EPA believes the activities outlined… have provided the public, concerned citizens and leadership multiple opportunities to gain access to information, provide comments and receive responses to questions regarding the current and future activities at the DOE Portsmouth site,” Stevenson wrote.
She did claim a recognition of the need to maintain communications with local officials as well as the public. Stevenson offered to arrange a meeting between Ohio EPA, Spencer and possibly a DOE representative sometime in the future.
“We remain committed to working with DOE and the community to see the site cleaned up safely and in a way that helps economic development potential of southeast Ohio,” Stevenson concluded.
Spencer was not immediately available for comment on Stevenson’s letter, a copy of which the Daily Times received late Monday.