Local authorities near the Energy Department’s Portsmouth Site in southern Ohio say research by Northern Arizona University supports their concerns about radioactive contamination at a nearby middle school.
There is “a reasonable degree of scientific certainty” that the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant complex is the source of enriched uranium and neptunium-237 found around Zahn’s Corner Middle School in Pike County, accord to Michael Ketterer, professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry at the university.
Northern Arizona University conducted the study for free using “modern forensic approaches,” according to a copy of the report and other material distributed by the Pike County General Health District during an April 27 meeting on potential contamination.
Ketterer and other university researchers studied the issue at the request of a Pike County resident and drafted a report dated April 27. On Monday, Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt announced the Board of Education was closing the school early for summer vacation, in advance of the regularly scheduled May 22 dismissal date.
The school is 2 miles from the Portsmouth Site.
Local officials say enriched uranium was found on school grounds, and an adjacent air monitoring station detected neptunium-237. Construction of an on-site waste disposal cell at the former uranium enrichment complex is the likely cause, they believe.
County officials asked DOE Assistant Secretary of Environmental Management Anne Marie White to suspend construction at the cell. White declined to do so for now. The DOE nuclear cleanup office says while there are trace amounts of contaminants near the school, they are more than 1,000 times below the concentration at which they would pose a threat to public health.
The Energy Department has agreed to fund a third-party consultant to take a fresh look at the contamination issue.