Ohio School Shuts Doors Over Radioactive Contamination

Enriched uranium detected near former nuclear plant
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2019 2:03 PM CDT
Ohio School Shuts Doors Over Radioactivity
This June 22, 2000 file photo shows the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant near Piketon, Ohio.   (AP Photo/David Kohl)

A scary situation got school shut down for summer break a week early in Piketon, Ohio: reports of radioactive contamination on the campus. Superintendent Todd Burkitt of the Scioto Valley Local School District has urged calm despite positive tests for enriched uranium inside Zahn's Corner Middle School and evidence of neptunium nearby, per WLWT. But calm is not the prevailing feeling in the town of 2,100, where work has for years been underway to dispose of some 2 million cubic yards of waste generated from the decontamination and decommissioning of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Just two miles from the school, the Department of Energy plant produced enriched uranium, of which neptunium is a byproduct, from 1954 to 2001. Both contaminants are carcinogens, and a village councilwoman tells CNN that five district students were diagnosed with cancer in the past five years, three of whom died.

As this point, the level of contamination is unclear. While Northern Arizona University scientists found enriched uranium in the school as well as enriched uranium, neptunium, and plutonium in nearby streams and creeks, an Energy official says enriched uranium and neptunium were only found in routine air samples at "more than 1,000 to 10,000 times below the established threshold of public health concern." "Any detectable level" in the school, which has about 320 students, "is too much," Burkitt tells WLWT. But despite calls to halt work at the plant, US Assistant Secretary of Energy Anne White says that won't happen until more air, water, and soil samples can be collected by a third party. Results could come in two weeks, per WOSU. Meanwhile, the school will remain closed "until the source, extent, level of contamination, and potential impacts to public health and the environment can be determined." (More radioactive waste stories.)

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