A Middle American Town is Being Sacrificed to the Cold War

by | Apr 25, 2023

A Middle American Town is Being Sacrificed to the Cold War

by | Apr 25, 2023

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The Department of Energy uses words such as “remediation,” “decommission,” and “deactivation” to describe what’s going on in the tiny Appalachian town of Piketon, Ohio—the home of a facility that was used to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs during the Cold War.

But Piketon residents say that the DOE is actively poisoning them. That’s because the DOE is conducting open-air demolitions of buildings tainted with enriched uranium, plutonium and other radioactive material, according to the residents.

Vina Colley, the president of Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety, or PRESS, shared a letter with Headline USA that she wrote to President Joe Biden about the matter.

“Mr. President, while the world celebrates Earth Day this April, we in southern Ohio are struggling with fear and living with a deadly and invisible threat to our families and our lives. The plant is scheduled for open-air demolition, posing inevitable and undeniably hazardous consequences to our community,” Colley told Biden in her April 7 letter.

“In addition, while the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory received a negative pressure tent and enclosed demolition, those in charge here are charging recklessly ahead with an open-air demolition of the Piketon plant, where plutonium has been proved to pass through the plant since 1955.”

The DOE, for its part, disagrees with Colley’s claims. The department did not respond to Headline USA questions about the matter, but its website color-codes the Piketon facility “green”—a marker for supposed environmental safety.

However, other people who lived and worked at Piketon’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, or PORTS, agree with Colley—including Jeff Walburn, Charles Lawson, Dr. David Manuta and Dr. Michael Ketterer. Walburn and Lawson have investigated the matter for years—Lawson also recently discovered nuclear contamination in his house miles away from the Piketon facility—and Manuta was a former chief scientist there.

Ketterer, meanwhile, is a Northern Arizona University chemistry professor who has personally analyzed contamination levels in the air around Piketon.

Ketterer’s work led to the discovery in 2019 of the presence of enriched uranium and other radioactive material at Zahn’s Corner Middle School, which is about four miles northeast of PORTS. This forced the DOE to admit to having detected radioactive americium in the air monitor near Zahn’s Corner in 2017, sparking outrage in the community that the federal government had kept information about nuclear contamination from them for some two years.

Ketterer told Headline USA that while the poisoning of Piketon has been happening for decades, it has been exacerbated by the open-air demolition at PORTS, which started in 2021 with the demolition of the “X-326” building, which was where the highest grades of enriched uranium were produced.

“When the X-326 building demolition gets going in 2021…there are periods of time where there are very elevated concentrations of uranium in the air,” said Ketterer, who analyzed data from a high-volume air monitor on the property of Elizabeth Lamerson, who lives just east of PORTS.

Ketterer also said there is an unusually high level of man-made uranium in the air samples he’s analyzed.

“The point I’m getting at, is when they’re knocking down the 326, you can see it with increased uranium levels, as well as isotope compositions indicating that this is stuff coming from the building,” Ketterer said.

Video footage of the demolition from May 2021 shows why the contamination may be so widespread. Workers had apparently tried to cover the site with a rubber roof to prevent dust from escaping, but it was seen flapping in the wind like a kite—much to the surrounding residents’ horror.

The X-326 building demolition is largely finalized, but Colley said she saw parts from the demolition lying uncovered on the ground as late as last month.

Colley and others are concerned about the demolition of other buildings on the site, including X-705, which she said handled plutonium. PRESS’s letter to the Biden White House requests, among other things, to delay the demolition until it can be determined how plutonium passed through the plant since 1955 and, “especially, how much was processed in building X-705, where workers were exposed and contaminated.”

Officials have not responded to questions about what building will be demolished next, or when that will be. Headline USA understands that some buildings may be left standing to store nuclear waste.

In response to email questions, the Ohio EPA sent the following statement about the matter.

“The Department of Energy is the lead agency handing the demolition at this site. To ensure protection of human health and the environment during the demolition, there are multiple layers of air monitoring taking place at the site by Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Health, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The air monitoring data can be reviewed here,” the Ohio EPA said.

“Ohio EPA is aware that the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon used reprocessed uranium at the site.”

Walburn and others have expressed dismay at the fact that the national spotlight has been shined on East Palestine, Ohio—the site of the recent toxic train derailment—while Piketon continues to be poisoned with impunity.

“You saw wreckage of a train, you saw an explosion, you saw fire, and you see dead fish. Nuclear material is silent, invisible, and it’s a deadly killer. And the chemicals being transported outside of the plant to the community are just as deadly, but you’re not seeing the explosion or fire,” he said.

“When do we get to come to the table, and present our documents at a state or federal hearing? When do we get that?”

Colley expressed similar sentiments.

“This community was sacrificed for the Cold War, and we’re still being sacrificed,” she said.

Ketterer, the scientist, agreed.

“The Department of Energy is just the most disgusting criminal fraudulent organization that I have ever encountered,” he said.

“They really don’t care about the people that live there. These people are politically powerless. There’s an attitude of contempt towards the people of Appalachia that shows through.”

This article was originally featured at Headline USA and is republished with permission.

About Ken Silva

Ken Silva has been a reporter for more than 10 years, working in places such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the United States. His favorite writers include Annie Jacobsen and Wendy Painting, and he thinks Robert Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" is highly underrated among libertarians today.

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