Local officials around Pike County, Ohio, met Monday with the head of the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Environmental Management to discuss apparent radiological contamination at a middle school adjacent to the Portsmouth Site.
During the meeting, DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management Anne Marie White said the agency won’t suspend construction of the on-site waste disposal cell at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant complex until there is more data about possible contamination at Zahn’s Corner Middle School, according to a press release from the Pike County General Health District.
Local officials have suggested the disposal cell construction at the old uranium enrichment site might have factored into possible contamination around the school.
The health district will pick a “3rd party/independent contractor” to conduct sampling at the school, private property, and local waters, “as soon as the funding is made available through DOE,” according to the release.
On Monday, Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt said in an open letter to the community that Zahn’s Corner Middle School was halting classes and starting summer break early, following detection of enriched uranium within the building and neptunium-237 by a nearby Energy Department air monitor.
“Routine air samples in the area of DOE’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon revealed trace amounts of two radiological isotopes that were more than one thousand to ten thousand times below the established threshold of public health concern,” a senior DOE official said in a Wednesday email. The department “treats all detections seriously – even those that are at such low levels.”
“We are confident that those findings will allay any cause for further concern,” the DOE official said.
Neptunium-237 is a byproduct of nuclear reactors and plutonium production.