The investigation found lax safety practices, routine mishandling of toxic and radioactive material and at least 400 accidental releases of uranium gas or toxic fluorine. Toxins were dumped into unlined landfills and ditches and leached into groundwater and the Little Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Scioto River.
Workers clean up following the March 1978 rupture of a 14-ton cylinder of liquid uranium hexafluoride that was dropped at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion plant. The subsequent leak nearly emptied the cylinder, releasing 21,125 pounds of radioactive, toxic uranium hexafluouride.
Credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy
Credit: U.S. Dept. of Energy
The plant was operated by the federal government and contractors from 1954 to 2001 and enriched uranium to high levels for weapons and nuclear submarines and to lower levels for nuclear power plants.
RELATED: Complicated claims process often ends in rejections
The plant is part of Ohio’s nuclear legacy, which also included the badly contaminated Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg and the Fernald Materials Production Center in Hamilton and Butler counties. Major cleanup occurred at both sites, and the Mound is now a business park and Fernald is a nature preserve.
ARCHIVE GRAPHIC/JOHN HANCOCK, 2006: The Mound Laboratory, Miamisburg, 1948-1993; Feed Materials Production Center, Near Fernald, 1951-1991; Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Near Piketon, 1954-2001.
RELATED: WATCH: The amazing transformation of the historic Mound Labs in Miamisburg, from atomic triggers to office space
A new uranium centrifuge plant was piloted at the closed Piketon plant, under construction during the period when the Dayton Daily News did its investigation. But it lost federal funding amid spiraling costs. The plant is also the site of a massive storage facility for giant cylinders filled with depleted uranium hexaflouride from enrichment plants across the country.
USEC employees test individual centrifuge machines during the spring of 2005 in Oak Ridge in preparation for testing numbers of centrifuges in a cascade formation in Piketon. The project later lost federal funding. USEC Inc. photo
RELATED: Groups fear Piketon will become dumping ground
Now Energy Department contractors are building a waste disposal site as the cleanup of the plant continues.
In 2006 a Dayton Daily News investigation found massive contamination had occurred at the site of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which enriched uranium near Piketon from 1954 to 2001. This graphic depicts those findings. STAFF
The department in 2017 released a report saying that trace amounts of neptunium, a radioactive carcinogen linked to bone cancer, were found at an air-monitoring stations near Zahn’s Corner Middle School and on Monday the school was closed after concerns were raised by the Scioto County Health Department.
Reporter Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.
RELATED: Our investigation of contamination at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant
Piketon: A troubled past
Complicated claims process often ends in rejections
Groups fear Piketon will become dumping ground
Costly centrifuge plan key to Piketon revival