Ohio Congressman Presses for More Safety Checks in Decommissioning of Piketon Uranium Enrichment Plant

More safety precautions are on tap for the demolition of the X326 uranium enrichment building at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

The House of Representatives passed a seven-bill appropriations package on July 29 that included health and safety provisions for decommissioning the plant backed by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

“Representative Ryan was listening to community members’ and site workers’ concerns regarding the takedown of the X326 building and wanted money put in the appropriations bill to do it correctly,” said Local 1-689 President Herman Potter.

“The community is asking questions about the demolition. It’s an open-air excavation. Water is sprayed on the building to ensure no contaminants get dispersed into the air, but you can still see dust clouds.”

The House-passed appropriations bill includes an extra $500,000 for the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a community liaison to provide technical and regulatory assistance to Piketon and surrounding counties, to continue its air and groundwater monitoring and increase the frequency of reporting to the public, and to develop a land use plan for the long-term use of the site.

The bill also directs the DOE to consult with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) when independent monitoring is complete. This third-party testing is still pending after air monitors revealed radioactive isotopes downwind at the non-closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School. ATSDR would evaluate whether an epidemiological study or comprehensive review of cancer rates in Pike and surrounding counties is warranted.

Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth LLC, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) contractor for the decontamination and decommissioning of the site, also placed radiological monitors around the operators handling the building demolition.

Potter said that workers complained that other areas should be monitored, too, and that Fluor management is working with the local’s safety reps to place monitors in areas that would alleviate employees’ concerns.

He said the local gets access to the data from the radiological monitors. Union safety reps are also reviewing the site sampling plan to ensure the monitoring is done correctly.

“We want to be sure the site sampling plan picks up chemical exposure the workforce gets at the site and that also affects the community. Some chemical exposure is not picked up by radiological monitoring,” Potter said.  “I’m not sure if the plan is rigorous enough.”

USW radiological control technicians (RCTs) were monitoring the site when Fluor took the position it could subcontract the RCT work. The local is fighting this change, he said.

During the tear-down of building X326, if any matter that is radiological or containing hazardous chemicals is found that could not be disposed of in the onsite disposal cell, USW workers recover and ship it appropriately offsite.

The House appropriations bill is at the Senate. If the extra $500,000 for Portsmouth makes it through the appropriations process, the DOE requirements associated with it would go into play Oct. 1, 2021, at the start of the federal government’s fiscal year.

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