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Piketon pushes for DOE attention on nuclear cleanup site

FILE - Piketon nuclear cleanup site. (WSYX)
FILE - Piketon nuclear cleanup site. (WSYX)
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Preparations are being made for a “roundtable” discussion on Saturday, June 19 at noon with Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) and former Congressman Zack Space regarding open-air demolition and other site activities at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Ryan said the community is searching for a solution to the Zahns Corner Middle School closure, and a more ecologically sound clean-up of the nuclear plant site. In recent years, the community discovered the presence of radioactive isotopes outside of the plant’s footprint.

“Pike County was selected by the U.S. government to construct a gaseous diffusion plant in the 1950s, to produce enriched uranium for our nuclear arsenal. For decades, the people of Southern Ohio worked tirelessly, keeping our country safe during the Cold War. When the Cold War ended, the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Pike County was then used for commercial nuclear reactors. However, operations ceased in 2001. Since then, previous administrations decided to construct a landfill on the current site, and bury much of the contaminated waste in this community’s backyard,” said Ryan.

“I have already engaged Secretary of Energy (Jennifer) Granholm in this issue and we need to make it right for those families who served the country for so many decades.There’s been a disconnect for a little while between the community in Pike County and the Department of Energy and I am going to make sure that there is a connection there, and that their interests are being heard and we are going to make sure these families are safe,” said Ryan.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to draw some level of connection. Again we don’t know, but there is an enrichment uranium plant, they are doing an open-air demolition, there, and we know Pike County has the highest cancer rates in the state of Ohio. That needs to be looked into,” said Ryan.

“My job is to make sure the smaller communities and the people who have served the country don’t get forgotten. To think that there are school children who may be dying because of what’s happening makes your stomach sick,” Ryan said.

“I know this administration will want to do something about that. We just need to make sure that the interests in small-town southern Ohio make it all the way to Washington DC so we can protect these families,” said Ryan.

Wes Hairston, Scioto Valley School District Superintendent will be at the meeting. “We have lost quite a few young people in this area. People that attended Zahns Corner Middle School so obviously we have concerns with that,” said Hairston.

Zahns Corner remains closed after radioactive material was detected in a monitor across from the school in 2019.

Hairston said they have three goals.

“We want to replace our school. We want to have better communications with the DOE and environmental management offices. And we hope to at some point have the property re-industrialized so it is something useful to the community,” said Hairston.

“For us obviously this is not a republican-democrat issue. We have a bunch of little tiny Ohioans that we are trying to protect,” Hairston said.

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Ryan said he wants work on the demolition at the site paused until area residents are assured it’s safe to continue.

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