PIKETON, OH — Located along the Scioto River in Southern Ohio, you will find a small village by the name of Piketon. It has always been a relatively small town, overshadowed by Waverly, which is five miles North. What this village is known for, though, is it’s nuclear enrichment plant. Known as the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, it is one of three nuclear enrichment plants in the entirety of the United States. The other plants are located respectively in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (K-25 Plant) and in Paducah, Kentucky (Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant).
The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant was constructed from 1952-1956, and the first enrichment cells went online in 1954. This plant operated until 2001, when USEC (United States Enrichment Corporation) ceased production.
During operations at the plant, six hundred eighty-nine million gallons of water went through the eleven cooling towers daily. Twenty million of those evaporated into the air. All of this water was supplied by well fields at the Scioto River, and forty million gallons of water were taken from the river per day. At eighteen billion kilowatts used yearly, the plant rose to the all time high power usage in the United States during operation.
Although the plant saw a 62% increase in population in Piketon between 1950 and 1960, the people of the village have never been fans. The locals have never supported the government placing it there, even with the jobs that came with it. Recently, Zahn’s Corner Middle School, a small school a part of the Scioto Valley School District, was shut down due to trace amounts of plutonium found in the school. Zahn’s Corner is about five miles from the plant. Along with the school being closed, there have been cancer scares as well.
Pike County has the second highest cancer rate in all of Ohio, and there have been reports of workers from the plant becoming sick. According to the Department of Labor website, 5,646 workers have placed claims for compensation connected to their work at the plant.
Plutonium, the carcinogen found in the air units at Zahn’s Corner Middle School, was said to be an issue at the plant as well. If inhaled, Plutonium can greatly increase your chances for developing cancer. Workers said that initially, the government denied the presence of plutonium at the plant, but now agree. Although it is recognized that the substance was openly there, the government agencies that decide compensation say that plutonium is not the reason for any sickness.
You may be wondering how this would affect locals of Southern Ohio, and the answer to that is the Department of Energy’s plan for a radioactive waste dump. A one hundred acre landfill is being constructed for waste from the plant, as they D&D (Deactivation and Decommission) the former Diffusion Plant.
Recently, I interviewed Tracey Lamerson, one of the several local activists against the newly proposed waste dump at the plant. She has been involved in this group for a little over three years.
“(In the fight against the dump) We attended many meetings with surrounding city and village councils as well as school boards in order to educate them about the hazards of a radiant tube waste dump in our community. . . ”
Lamerson and her organization are not alone in their opposition. “Communities like the City of Jackson, Chillicothe, as well as villages like Piketon and Waverly, townships, and school boards all have passed resolutions siding with Piketon and opposing the waste dump.”
Although the local communities are on board, Lamerson tells me that the real fight is against the higher ups.
“We have literally spent hours upon hours talking to the local county commissioners- which is where the pressure has to begin. They have not done their part in opposing the dump due to political pressure from those in more prominent positions.”
She also has a message to the community.
“Community members need to understand that this dump is forever and there is no going back. This will forever be a black mark on our community. Businesses won’t come here and we will see our towns suffer from lack of jobs. Citizens need to put pressure on the commissioners, the governor of Ohio, Mike Dewine, Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, and Representative Brad Wenstrup.”
Some may think the dump isn’t as bad of an idea as others say, but locals will be directly affected.
“The (radioactive waste) dump is being built directly over the Teays Valley Aquifer,” says Lamerson. This aquifer feeds our streams and rivers, which in turn, feed our drinking water. After being investigated by the Department of Energy (DOE), it was said that the bedrock between the aquifer and the dump site is fractured. This was stated in their own documentation, but they then lied to the public when asked in a meeting.
“This dump will dissuade any future big businesses or even small businesses from locating to Pike County,” said Lamerson.
The future of Pike County is questionable, as controversies arise at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Having the second highest cancer rate in the state, local residents fear the plant is one of the causes, with how many have worked there. More problems come with the shutting down of Zahn’s Corner Middle School, after finding trace amounts of radioactive material. Along with these factors, it is also believed that the dump is going to pollute our natural water sources, such as the Scioto River, and steer large and small businesses alike away.
The building of the dump, as well as former workers becoming sick and not receiving proper compensation from the Department of Energy, has lead to groups of vigilant citizens being made to combat the issues. Feeling the public is not being heard, these groups have attended numerous meetings with city councils and state representatives about the problems, but hope is being lost.
Although we do not know what the future holds for Pike County, we can only hope for change to come for the sake of the people.