Morning Briefing - June 12, 2019
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June 12, 2019

Error Led to Energy Department Under-Reporting of Portsmouth Rad Contamination

By ExchangeMonitor

The Department of Energy acknowledged last week that a “minor miscalculation” by contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth resulted in the under-reporting of doses of some radioactive contaminants for many years around the agency’s Portsmouth Site in Ohio.

That said, the radioactive dose rates “remain far below” the point of being a health and safety concern, Undersecretary of Science Paul Dabbar said in a June 6 letter to Pike County, Ohio, Health Commissioner Matt Brewster.

Dabbar said the flawed data, which went into DOE’s annual site environmental reports for the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant between 2001 and 2017, was discovered by site management contractor Fluor-BWXT and reported to the federal agency on May 28. Two national laboratories subsequently confirmed the corrected calculations still show that contaminants from the Portsmouth Site do not pose a risk to the surrounding community, according to the letter.

The DOE Office of Environmental Management is conducting a detailed review of the longtime monitoring process for radioactive contaminants at the former uranium enrichment site. The move was prompted by the decision to close the Zahn’s Corner Middle School, located 2 miles from the Portsmouth Site, for the 2019-2020 academic year. The decision came after the Energy Department and Northern Arizona University both reported finding at least trace amounts of neptutnium-237 and enriched uranium around the school.

The Energy Department has discovered only trace amounts of contaminants in studying results from six air monitoring stations on-site at Portsmouth, along with 10 more monitoring stations in the surrounding community. The agency did additional sampling during the Memorial Day weekend, and will pay for third-party sampling and analysis for the school.