Meeting on Nuke Waste Storage Plan Threatens to Melt Down
May 5, 2007
By Mike Ludwig
Athens News Campus
Over 50 local residents and activists grilled a member of the nuclear-energy industry Thursday night in Athens over a controversial proposal to reuse spent nuclear fuel rods at the former uranium enrichment site in Piketon, Ohio.
The proposal, known as Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), “holds great promise for supporting the worldwide growth of nuclear energy, and SODI supports the efforts to revitalize nuclear power in the United States, to diversify its energy portfolio, increase energy security, and to reduce greenhouse-gas emission in the production of electricity,” according to a newsletter produced by the Southern Ohio Diversity Initiative (SODI), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)designated “community reuse organization.”
If the project went forward, new nuclear energy operations requiring stored nuclear waste would begin about 50 miles west of Athens.
Greg Simonton of SODI was the only sp! eaker on a nine-member panel who spoke in favor of the proposal during the town meeting Thursday in the Athens City Council chambers. His claims that the project would be safe, help Ohio meet the public’s demand for electricity, and bring much-needed
labor opportunities to the region prompted strong challenges from fellow panel members and meeting participants.
They charged that the creation of a nuclear fuel recycling center will lead to the local storage of nuclear waste from the 103 existing reactor sites throughout the country.
“This is not going to be a nuclear waste dump,” countered Simonton, who
objected to the connotations of the word “dump.”
In disagreeing withi Simonton, Piketon resident Geoffrey Sea, a member of the Southern Ohio Neighbors Group, cited a quotation allegedly pulled from a draft application for DOE funding from the Southern Ohio Nuclear Integration Cooperative (SONIC), the main group of industry members
involved in the projec! t.
“Separate from this proposal, though integral to it, SONIC has proposed a spent nuclear fuel (SNF) facility at Portsmouth (Piketon),” Sea read aloud during the question-and-answer session.
Simonton responded by denying that statement had ever been made and said the document Sea referred to “does not exist.”
According to an informational tabloid published by SONIC, “GNEP implementation will greatly reduce the long-term storage requirements for used nuclear fuel by utilizing recycling methods to reuse this spent fuel currently stored at 103 existing nuclear reactor sites across the country.”
Simonton said that existing technology could recycle certain portions of radioactive waste for use as reactor fuel for creating electricity.
Nuclear operations at Piketon/Portsmouth’s former Gaseous Diffusion Plant have had a troubled history. According to a 2006 special report by the Dayton Daily News, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than $3 billion had been spent cleaning up the site of t! he plant, which began enriching atomic metals for nuclear weapons over 50 years ago. The cost of cleanup could eventually top $4.5 billion, the paper reported, making it the most expensive environmental cleanup in Ohio’s history.
During emotional testimony Thursday evening, panelist Vina Colley, a former Piketon Gaseous Diffusion Plant employee and president of Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety, claimed that many of her co-workers became ill and died of cancer and radiation-related illness.
“My friends and co-workers are dying of cancer, and the government waits until they die to pay their families any compensation,” Colley said.
Thursday’s meeting was organized by concerned citizens who feel their voices were ignored during informational events sponsored by proponents of the proposed project, according to a press release for the event.
“We are concerned about the process,” the Rev. William Carroll said in a prepared statement. “The sponsors of this plan have organized so-called ‘public hearings,’ which have made a mockery of democratic values. At one, the announced question-and-answer session was cancelled over the objection of several community members. In other cases, people were not allowed to testify at all.” Carroll is the rector of Athens’ Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.
“We are part of this Creation,” Carroll said. “We don’t stand above it.”
Some participants suggested focusing on wind- and solar-energy sources as an alternative to relying on nuclear power for jobs and electricity in southern Ohio.
“I have seen the renewable-energy industry grow by leaps and bounds over the past several years,” Michelle Greenfield, co-owner of Third Sun Wind and Power, said in a statement read aloud by one of the panelists. “And guess what? Solar power has no emissions as it is producing power and has
no toxic waste that needs to find a place to be buried and does not pose a national or international security risk.”
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and a bipartisan group of U.S. House members have voiced support for the nuclear-waste recycling project, though they say their support is dependent on Piketon not becoming a nuclear-waste dump.
It’s far from a foregone conclusion that the U.S. Department of Energy will choose Piketon for such a facility, since it has received site-study reports for 10 other locations around the country. Opponents, however, fear that underlying the nuclear recycling proposal is a plan to use the Piketon facility for storage, even if the recycling operation goes elsewhere.
For more information on SONIC’s plans to reuse nuclear fuel in Piketon, visit www.safesonic.net and www.gnep.energy.gov. To sign the SONG petition against the GNEP proposal, visit