White building looking like a plant


In December, 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $3.82 million in "bonuses" to BWXT Conversion Services LLC, the company that operates the conversion facilities at the Nuclear Sites at Portsmouth, OH and Paducah, KY. According to the DOE, “Many activities relate to completing corrective actions and work to restart the conversion plants following the contractor’s suspension of operations due to safety and maintenance issues.” The DOE fails to note that BWXT is responsible for those very problems with safety and maintenance – and that the facilities have not been in operation for nearly 2 years. Operation of the facilities will be taken over by another company, Mid-America Conversion Services LLC, beginning this month, February 2017.

The two conversion facilities remove fluorine from the depleted uranium hexafluoride (DUF6).  DUF6 is waste from the uranium enrichment plants that operated for about 50 years in Ohio and Kentucky. Besides being radioactive, uranium in its hexafluoride form is highly toxic and chemically corrosive. The chemical reactivity of the fluorine is causing the cylinders that hold the DUF6 to rust and leak, so the conversion process is essential to keep the radioactivity from spreading. It is critical that this process be resumed immediately at the two sites. 


In January, 2017 the Department of Energy (DOE) released an Environmental Assessment (EA), attempting to clear the way for the transfer up to 3,677 acres of land at the Portsmouth Ohio Nuclear Site (PORTS) to private or other entities with the issuance of a 94-page document. That is all but 100 of 3,777 acres at the site. These 100 acres would be the final footprint of the on-site disposal cell for the now-being-dismantled uranium enrichment plant with its enormous chemical and radioactive contaminants.

The proposal is extraordinarily broad, insufficient and premature. The EA also violates the Department’s own requirements for an Environmental Impact Statement. The property has a wide variety of buildings, hazardous and radioactive landfill dump sites, uncharacterized landfill sites and other areas of unknown and uncharacterized radioactive contamination, including landfill dump sites which are not included in the current Environmental Cleanup Program.

DOE, in its wisdom, brought in reprocessed high-level radioactive waste and ran it through the uranium enrichment facility for many years. This contaminated the site with technetium and transuranics which are highly radioactive elements – much more radioactive than uranium. 

Before any land is transferred, it first must be cleaned up. A full Environmental Impact Statement is required for federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, which includes uranium enrichment facilities.  A simple Environmental Assessment is not sufficient. 

While land at the Portsmouth Nuclear Site that is free of radioactivity and other contamination could be transferred, parts of the property are too hazardous to be taken out of government oversight.

Unless people are unaware of the dangerous nature of the contamination at the site, they would likely prefer to purchase uncontaminated land elsewhere in the county.

The only special value of land at the Portsmouth Site would be the value added if the DOE were to engage in research and development of renewable and sustainable energy sources and supporting technologies. The Sierra Club has urged the DOE to begin such a program—they can afford it. Considering the mess that has been created, the DOE owes a safe and viable industry to the people of Pike County.

The Sierra Club is preparing a response to this proposal.  We encourage Free Press readers to write a sentence or two with your opinion on this issue and email it to the DOE at eacomments@fbports.com by February 18, 2017.


Members of our Ohio committee joined people from across the nation in Chicago on Dec. 1-4 for a Summit on High-Level Radioactive Waste. High-level waste is the irradiated or used fuel rods from nuclear reactors (power plants). 

The summit included Native Americans and other minorities fighting uranium mining as well as members of families exposed to nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific. Many antinuclear and other organizations were represented. 

The Summit convened around opposing legislation that would start transportation of high-level waste across the nation to so-called “Consolidated Interim Storage” sites, including opposition to the Department of Energy’s “Consent-Based Siting” efforts. Currently, low income communities of color in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico are being targeted. Interim sites would either become permanent or the waste would need to be moved a second time.

The Summit resolved to redouble efforts to demand Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) for wastes at reactor sites. We agreed to resist efforts to revive the Yucca Mountain, Nevada permanent dump-site. We opposed the continuing production of high-level radioactive waste through the ongoing operation of nuclear reactors. In particular, we opposed state subsidies and bailouts for America’s aging, deteriorating and dangerous reactors. Bad examples are nuclear bailouts already passed in Ohio, New York and Illinois.