Big yellow construction machine digging into the soil

DOE “cleanup” procedures are likely spreading contamination

Citizens Rally Over Offsite Contamination at the Portsmouth Nuclear Site

As schools start up across the nation, the Zahn’s Corners Middle School in Piketon, Ohio, remains closed. The reason? Neptunium, a highly radioactive element, was found by a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) air monitor outside the building. Not in a current broadcast, mind you, but hidden in a 2017 DOE report that was made public in January of 2019.

Dr. Michael Ketterer, an expert on radioactive isotopes who happened to be in Ohio in April, took samples from the school and from local streams and attics. His testing found unmistakable evidence of radioactive contamination coming from the Portsmouth Nuclear Site nearby – a 4,000-acre site that once housed a massive uranium enrichment operation. The site name of Portsmouth a misnomer, as it is actually just outside Piketon.

The Piketon community, including the Pike County Health District, demanded that the DOE do more testing, and that testing have an independent component. In response, the DOE attempted to shut out independent testing by going to the school unannounced over the Memorial Day weekend and asking to be let in to take samples. The school principal, however, called Ohio EPA and the Health District, who sent their people to split the samples that were taken. When Dr. Ketterer tested the Health District’s samples, he found more radioactive contamination with the signature of the Nuclear Site.

On July 16, the DOE held a public meeting, bringing in an expert on radiation sickness from Oregon. They maintained that the results of their testing showed that the radioactivity was “below acceptable levels.” First, this contradicts science, which says there is no safe level of radioactivity. Second, so-called “acceptable” levels are often political in nature and are subject to revision. One may accept a risk to ride in a car. But it is a different matter to be asked to take a health risk because a neighboring industry pollutes.

DOE is refusing to halt work or use mitigation techniques in their “cleanup” of the site, which is likely putting radioactivity into the air.

In the meantime, two class action lawsuits have been filed by nearby residents claiming radioactive contamination on their properties and/or illnesses related to radioactive poisoning. Dr. Christopher Busby, famed English radiation and health expert spoke in Piketon about these lawsuits on July 20,  hundreds attended. People who have lived near the plant were asked to fill out forms detailing their illnesses. This effort is ongoing. All through the crowd horrifically sad tales could be heard of people and their loved ones who were sickened or had died from cancers and other illnesses. Pike County is second after Vinton County in cancer. Vinton lies near Pike.

On August 10, Dr. Ketterer spoke at Piketon High School about the results of his testing, which showed more radioactivity with the Nuclear Site signature. He explained how the DOE results were inconclusive because the testing materials they used were already contaminated with uranium. 

Ketterer said that the outcome of all this would depend on sustained action from the community. Victims of injustice are always the ones tasked with obtaining justice. We believe the Piketon community is up to the task.


Update on Ohio House Bill 6, the bailout of  FirstEnergy’s Nuclear and Coal

After hearing testimony at the Statehouse from the end of April through the beginning of July, and despite the fact that public testimony was overwhelmingly in opposition and that only those with vested interests spoke in favor of the bill, the Ohio House and Senate passed a $1.1 billion-dollar bailout for FirstEnergy’s aging and horribly polluting nuclear and coal plants. One of these coal plants is actually in Indiana. Sadly, some Democrats supported this Republican bill, without whose votes the bill would not have passed.

The regressive law would make residential and small business ratepayers bear the bulk of the bailout through increased electric bills.

FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) is a newly-created corporation into which FirstEnergy has put its liabilities. Subsequently, FES declared bankruptcy, protecting the assets of the parent company. Stunningly, the courts allowed FES to use what assets it had to lobby for HB 6. The Energy and Policy Institute out of San Francisco reports that FES spent as much as $50 million on lobbying firms and coalitions like Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance that supported the bailout.

This is aside from around $9 million of dark money that was spent on ads by the secretive group Generation Now. Ohioans were blanketed with deceiving ads – mailers; TV, radio, newspaper and digital media ads; phone calls – all threatening dire consequences if HB 6 did not pass.

The ink was not yet dry on Governor Mike DeWine’s signature when FES moved to dishonor union contracts for its plants, including worker pensions. This, after promising unions that contracts would be honored in order to get their support for the bill.  

Meanwhile, the Environmental Law and Policy Center has been intervening in the FES bankruptcy proceedings, attempting to keep FirstEnergy from raiding the decommissioning funds of the nuclear plants, which amount to nearly $2 billion.

A group called Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is attempting to get an initiative on the 2020 ballot that would overturn the bailout. The first attempt failed when Ohio’s Attorney General rejected the ballot language citing 21 substantial errors. A second attempt using corrected ballot language is expected to be ruled on at any time. Over 265,000 valid signatures must be collected by Oct. 21, which entails collecting twice that many. 

Unbelievably, weird ads are now flying around threatening a Chinese takeover of American jobs if people sign a door-to-door petition. 

Public Citizen says they are taking the issue to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) asking that FERC declare the law illegal, since FERC is the only entity allowed to regulate energy prices. 

Other legal action could be taken asking the courts to rule parts or all of the law illegal.

Stay tuned.

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