Piketon radiation records altered, feds say

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In 2006, the Dayton Daily News published a series about sick workers and the massive contamination and taxpayer-funded cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion plant, where the federal government and its contractors enriched uranium for decades in Piketon, Ohio.

Federal authorities are investigating allegations that a contractor's employees altered documents to cover up problems with radiation detection equipment at a shuttered uranium enrichment plant in southern Ohio, according to federal and contractor officials.

Fluor-B&W/Portsmouth officials believe the documents were altered by "employees and sub-contract personnel" to avoid detection of problems with the hand-held radiation detection monitors at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion plant, according to a May 22 memo from Site Project Director Dennis J. Carr to company employees.

The company is under contract with the Department of Energy to remove radioactive and toxic contamination at the 3,700-acre site where the federal government and its contractors enriched uranium for weapons and power plants between 1954 and 2001.

The meters are used to measure alpha and beta radiation contamination on people and equipment.

"Basically, they are one of the main sources of checking before people or materials leave an area," company spokesman Jeff Wagner said.

Officials have not identified any occurrence of an individual being contaminated or the improper release from a radiological area of contaminated equipment, materials or waste as a result of the problem, Wagner said.

"The investigation presented no evidence that anything associated with this issue left the radiation area or the site or entered any public space," Wagner said.

25 altered entries

The issue was discovered in late April and both the company and the Department of Energy Inspector General opened investigations, Carr said.

"Intentional alteration of federal records is not only a breach of our company's ethics policy and a Level 1 violation of our disciplinary policy, but could carry with it serious legal and/or contractual consequences for the involved individuals and the company," Carr wrote.

Fluor-B&W found that about 25 "data entries documenting daily performance tests on hand-held radiological monitors had been inappropriately altered," said Tim Echelard, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy.

The monitors are tested daily, and in the process some showed readings about 15 percent outside the proper range, which should have resulted in them being pulled from service, said Wagner.

"It's possible the equipment did not accurately read the level of radioactivity, but no materials monitored were ever able to leave the radiation area," Wagner said.

Tim Echelard, DOE spokesman, said the company "confirmed that records had been retrieved and deliberately altered" and "appropriate employee actions" are being taken this week.

Wagner declined to say if those actions include firing radiation contamination personnel in charge of the meters. But Carr said the company will announce "new leadership" of the program.

Wagner said that within the radiation contamination organization "there was some supervisor/management direction as well as supervision/management knowledge about the issue but did not act on employee concerns."

Carr urged employees to not comply with any order from a supervisor that is unsafe, unethical, illegal or violates regulations, and to report such violations to superiors.

Carr said the focus at Fluor-B&W is "recovering from the event and strengthening our Radiation Protection Program through the implementation of corrective actions," including retraining of staff and verifying equipment is functioning properly.

While the U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General is investigating the allegations, the resulting report may not be made public, according to Felicia Jones, media liaison at the IG's office.

Massive contamination

In 2006 the Dayton Daily News published a multi-part investigation of radioactive and toxic contamination at the Piketon site, where secrecy cloaked activities by the government and its contractors, leading to massive contamination that made workers sick.

The Daily News investigation documented decades of slipshod safety practices, accidental toxic releases and routine mishandling of chemical and radioactive material. The clean up work Fluor-B&W is doing is estimated to cost $2 billion. Taxpayers have paid the company $690 million since it began work in March 2011. The company is to decontaminate more than 400 buildings and complete environmental remediation of groundwater contamination and landfills on the site, Wagner said. Officials estimate the work will take until 2021 to complete.

Piketon was one of a trio of major government nuclear facilities in southern Ohio that were badly contaminated. The Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg and the Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald near Cincinnati also were cleaned at taxpayer expense.

The Piketon site — 100 miles southeast of Dayton — also is home to USEC Inc.'s next-generation uranium centrifuges, which are still in the testing stage as the company seeks federal and investor funding for the project.

USEC operated the gaseous diffusion plant at Piketon before it closed. It also operates one in Paducah, Ky., which remains open.

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