State to judge safety of stream near plant
Activists and the federal government disagree on the water's condition.
PIKETON, Ohio (AP) -- State officials will perform radiation tests of a stream near a former uranium enrichment plant to determine whether the water is safe.
Environmental groups have said their tests show that the Big Run stream near the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in southern Ohio is highly radioactive, but the federal government says the water in the stream is safe.
The nearby plant, which once enriched uranium for weaponry and nuclear fuel, was closed in 2001 when operations were consolidated to Paducah, Ky. A $1.5 billion facility to enrich uranium using a new technology is expected to be completed at Piketon by 2010.
The U.S. Department of Energy launched a medical screening program in 1999 for current and former workers at 13 of the nation's most contaminated sites, including the Portsmouth plant in southern Ohio. Tests have been done on thousands of workers who may have been exposed to asbestos, beryllium, plutonium, nickel, solvents, acids and high levels of noise through their work at the plants.
Environmental groups say foam from two spots in Big Run, about 65 miles south of Columbus in Pike County, tested at least 100 times above background radiation levels.
The Portsmouth-Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety Security and the RadioActivist Campaign, based in Hanford, Wash., reported the high radiation levels earlier this month. Ewan Todd, a member of the group, said the stream-radiation readings show that the Energy Department and the United States Enrichment Corp., which runs the plant, can't be trusted to operate the new plant without recontaminating the environment.
The Energy Department and the enrichment facility say the water is safe.
"The bottom line is there is not a reason to be concerned," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will perform radiation tests, probably in August and September, as part of an ongoing effort to measure stream health, according to Maria Galanti, the EPA's project coordinator overseeing environmental cleanup at the 3,000-acre Piketon site.
Galanti said she has questions about the testing methods of the environmental group and of the federal government.
Big Run, a tributary of the Scioto River, was one of several area streams that contained fish with elevated radiation levels in 1992. Radiation levels five times above the natural level showed up in stream sediments along with increased levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury.