Critics blast DOE over alleged lack of reporting on fire at A-plant

By Tom Corrigan -

A seemingly little reported fire at the plant is the latest controversy to sprout up between the Department of Energy, it’s hired decontamination and demolition contractor Fluor BWXT and the opposition to their activities at the defunct Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon.

In an email to DOE spokesperson Yvette Cantrell shared with the Daily Times, Piketon resident Elizabeth Lamerson, who in the past has insisted she is not an activist but a “concerned fence line neighbor,” blasted DOE for allegedly keeping quiet a fire which took place at the plant March 14. Lamerson alleged the fire burned for seven hours but “DOE was again silent on the matter and provided zero information to the community.”

In her email response, Cantrell readily admitted there was what she called “an exothermic (heat generating) reaction inside one of the largest components that was being cut into smaller pieces for future disposal.”

The incident took place in what Cantrell labeled the X-333 Process Building.

“The reaction did generate small flames at the onset that were contained inside the component and significant amounts of smoke. The possibility of this reaction was understood, evaluated and planned for prior to the work being performed, and the workers and the site fire department had conducted drills specifically for this scenario,” Cantrell wrote.

She added a project team collected air samples in the building before, during and after the event with “no measurable releases beyond the building.”

Cantrell further contended air samples taken the next day did not detect any contaminants of concern.

“There was no off-site impact to the public,” Cantrell stated. For her part, Lamerson said she was peppered with questions from other residents regarding the fire.

“I was asked why the facility was allowed to be aired out when this is an airborne contamination incident,” Lamerson wrote. She lamented the fact residents felt the need to come to her for answers, claiming DOE and/or Fluor BWXT should have been providing those answers to the public as a matter of course.

Piketon Village Councilman Dennis Foreman also heavily criticized DOE over their response to the fire. He said the incident remained an unconfirmed rumor until an April 4 meeting of the Site-Specific Advisory Board (SSAB) of which Foreman is a member. Foreman claimed none of the workers involved in dealing with the incident were tested for any type of contamination. He flat out stated he does not trust DOE’s reporting regarding the fire or for that matter other issues at the plant.

“I don’t trust them at all now,” Foreman said.

Foreman had additional concerns regarding information revealed in the 2017 Piketon Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER) which came out in January of this year. At one point the long report talks about a very trace amount of something called Neptunium-237 being found in the air near Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Piketon, part of the Scioto Valley Local School District.

The ASER report states the amount found was 0.08 percent of the acceptable standard, or derived concentration standard, for the radioactive material. For his part, Foreman was not in the least bit swayed by the small amount of the material present. He essentially argued there is no good reason for radioactive materials of any type to be showing up in the air around a Piketon public school. Foreman further talked about mercury being found in waterways near the plant in April 2018.

“I have real concerns about anything coming from the plant in getting out into the community,” said local activist and long-standing DOE critic Vina Colley. “It is a big concern.”

For her part, Lamerson also had concerns regarding the ASER report but for different reasons.

“There is no context for the data and the report is written in a manner that appears to be deliberately confusing and virtually impossible to follow,” Lamerson said.

“The ASER is a regulatory document with a structured format,” Cantrell wrote in response to Lamerson’s complaints. “However, I understand your concern with the readability and the purpose. I will discuss with my management the potential for creating a summary that effectively communicates monitoring results to the community.”

Cantrell also talked about DOE putting together a question and answer page on their website. She said DOE is currently working with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to develop that Q&A page.

By Tom Corrigan