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SODI Provides Fourth $150K Grant to Region

Funding Will Support New Airport Terminal in Jackson County

PIKETON, Ohio – April 19, 2013 – A new 2,000 square foot terminal at the James A. Rhodes Airport in Jackson County is on the horizon thanks in part to the recycling efforts of clean scrap metals from the U.S. Department of Energy’s former uranium enrichment facility in Piketon.  The Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) has announced the award of a $150,000 grant from its recycling proceeds to the Jackson County Commissioners for the planned project to enhance the airport located five miles southeast of Jackson.

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‘Our job is to create jobs’

Originally published April 20, 2018 in the Daily Times

Even though it sits in Piketon, what has long been known as the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant — and commonly referred to as the A-Plant because it is the site where uranium was enriched for use in atomic bombs — essentially was shut down by the federal government in 2001. Technically, the plant, used to enrich uranium starting in 1952, was placed into “cold standby,” says Jason Lovins, a spokesperson for Fluor-BWXT/Portsmouth, which currently has about 2,000 people working to dismantle the enormous — but shuttered — plant.

In a few months, the dismantling project and accompanying environmental cleanup will hit a major milestone as an approximately 80-acre piece of plant property is turned over for private redevelopment. Lovins and others say making the slice of land available is a small step in transforming the entire 3,700-acre site back into a productive industrial location.

Fluor-BWXT and other entities involved in the cleanup of the diffusion plant held an open house earlier this week at the Scioto County Welcome Center to discuss the current state of that cleanup and the future of the overall site. Additional open houses were held Thursday at the Waverly YMCA, and future open houses are scheduled for 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Riverview Conference Center in Chillicothe and 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Jackson High School.

Because the remaining plant and the surrounding property is a relic of the Cold War, used by the federal government to produce uranium for use in weapons, to power Naval vessels and nuclear power plants, repurposing the property is said not to be a simple task. Lovins and other officials say before any of the land can be reused, approvals must be gained from such entities as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency all the way up to the U.S. Congress. Officials hope the land can be transferred sometime this summer. Initially, it will be turned over to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI.) Technically, SODI is what is known as a “community reuse organization,” entities established by the federal government at the end of the Cold War to oversee the closure, clean up and reuse of sites such as the Portsmouth diffusion plant.

“Our job is to create jobs,” says SODI Executive Director Steve Shepherd, adding the goal is to replace all the high-paying jobs that once existed at the diffusion plant as well as the jobs now being worked to tear down and remove that plant. SODI is working with what’s been dubbed “PORTSfuture,” a program of Ohio University, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

During 2010 and 2011, OU conducted a 15-month study to determine what the public hoped to see rise from the ashes of the diffusion plant. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the No. 1 scenario picked by the public was a nuclear power plant, a potential scheme which earned 495 of 1,141 public votes cast during the OU study, which included persons from four counties: Pike, Scioto, Ross and Jackson. OU’s Stephen Howe says the diffusion plant was a longtime, integral part of the local community. “People have become comfortable with the idea of nuclear power,” he says.

Regarding the slice of acreage to become available this summer, the most likely use at this point seems to be some sort of non-nuclear power plant, according to plans presented by OU and SODI. In the simplest terms, officials are looking to create a major heat source using natural gas, biomass (described, for example, as wood chips), municipal solid waste and chipped tires. That heat source would then be used to generate electricity and to produce hydrogen for use in at least five manufacturing processes, including a refinery for oil, coal, tires and biomass. Ammonia and methanol production are also possibilities. The plan is described as an “Integrated Energy System (IES)/closed loop, advanced manufacturing complex to grow industry, leverage coal and shale resources,” according to information provided during the open house. Lovins and OU spokespeople talked about the plan creating the maximum number of jobs on the available property. Lovins admitted ammonia and methanol production might not seem all that glamorous or the most environmentally sound uses for the property. However, he pointed out that the land has been used for extremely heavy industry, and can only be used for similar purposes. You’re not going to put a housing project in that location, he quipped.

How long will it take for the plans for the power plant or whatever concept is ultimately adopted for the 80 acres to appear? Think in years, SODI’s Shepherd explained. He added SODI has not been able to market the property since it doesn’t actually have title to it at this point. He did talk about speaking with industrial officials in Europe and other far-off spots to figure out best uses of the land.

Lovins and Greg Simonton of the Department of Energy said the next step is to prepare about 200 acres adjacent to the 80-acre site for use and marketing by SODI. Again, that process is expected to take several years. Lovins and Simonton both said tearing down the entire diffusion plan will require decades. A silly question, perhaps, but Simonton was asked why a couple of cranes with wrecking balls and a few bulldozers couldn’t knock the job out quickly. Predictably, Simonton said that, of course, the process just isn’t that simple. Not only was the diffusion plant used to create uranium, it is filled with building materials considered hazardous today, ranging from asbestos to PCPs. That said, Lovins and SODI spokespeople all said they hope to show portions of the plant property can be reused even as demolition of the plant continues.

At least one section of the plant property likely is never going to be reused. Plans are to place a permanent debris storage facility onsite. That plan is opposed by several local governments, including Portsmouth, Piketon, Jackson, Chillicothe and New Boston, where local legislators joined their countrerparts in surrounding communities in oppossing the storage facility plan. All those officials already may have lost this battle, however. Simonton said planners had followed the rules to win approval of what might be called a dump site, and his belief is those plans are moving forward.

A-Plant could return to production

Originally published January 7, 2019 in the Daily Times

PIKETON, OH –U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) announced U.S. Department of Energy’s intent to invest $115 million over the next three years, potentially resulting in 60 initial jobs, to produce a cascade of 16 centrifuges at the former American Centrifuge Project in Piketon to demonstrate the production of high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU). HALEU will be the fuel source for advanced nuclear reactors, technology that can be used to improve the nation’s energy security. A domestic source of enriched uranium is also needed for national security purposes.

“Today is another milestone in the effort to get Piketon back up and running doing the work that is so important to our country,” Portman said Monday at the plant. “While there will be a consideration period before this decision is final, I’m encouraged by today’s announcement. Getting Piketon back to its full potential benefits the skilled workforce here, the surrounding local economy, and strengthens national energy and defense security. I want to thank the Department of Energy and the Trump administration for reconsidering the Obama administration’s decision to end the domestic uranium enrichment demonstration program. I will continue to work with my colleagues and the administration to ensure this site gets cleaned up and ready for redevelopment.”

Under questioning from Portman last year, Secretary Perry – who toured the site with Portman in 2017 – committed to re-evaluating the Obama administration’s decision to end the domestic uranium enrichment demonstration program because having domestic enrichment capabilities would provide stability and security to the country. The demonstration program – known as the American Centrifuge Plant – operated at Piketon until it was disbanded by the Obama administration in 2015.

Portman has also been a supporter in the decontamination and decommissioning efforts at the former gaseous diffusion plant at the Piketon site. He has consistently worked to secure funding needed to maintain current employment levels to cleanup at the site. In March, Portman announced a $30 million increase in appropriations in the final FY 2018 appropriations bill. In February 2018, Portman visited the plant and met with key stakeholders — including 2nd Disrict Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), the U.S. Department of Energy, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative, the Site Specific Advisory Board, and local and state elected officials — to discuss the future of cleanup activities at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. During the meeting, Portman announced that he had secured a commitment from DOE to clean up the existing landfills and plumes at the plant.

DOE to Transfer 80 Acres at Portsmouth Site to SODI

Originally published June 27, 2018 in the Daily Times

PIKETON, Ohio – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is moving forward to transfer the

first parcel of property at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) since decontamination

and decommissioning (D&D) began at the site in 2011.

On July 20, the Department of Energy and the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative

(SODI) will formalize the transfer of Parcel 1, an 80-acre parcel in the southeast portion of the

reservation and adjacent to the site’s Perimeter Road. Parcel 1 is located on a former air strip used

during the early years of plant operation.

The transfer follows a rigorous review process by the Ohio Environmental Protection

Agency, approval from Energy Secretary Rick Perry and a 60-day congressional review that ended

this week.

“From the beginning of the D&D Project, the community has made it clear that its desired

end state for the PORTS site is to re-use for economic development,” said Robert E. Edwards III,

Manager of DOE’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office in Lexington, Ky. “We believe the transfer

of Parcel 1 will demonstrate our commitment to making this a reality.”

In cooperation with DOE, SODI is organizing a ceremony formalizing the transfer.

SODI is the designated Community Reuse Organization (CRO) for the Portsmouth site. CRO’s were

established in the late 1990’s to mitigate the economic and workforce restructuring impacts of

DOE’s nuclear complex cleanup. Receiving excess property from the PORTS site for economic

development is one function of SODI.

“We are excited to get this first transfer complete. Having this acreage will allow SODI a

real opportunity to recruit projects that will provide jobs to our local citizens.” said SODI Executive Director Steve Shepherd.

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant was constructed from 1952-56. Uranium

enrichment operations began in 1954 and ceased in 2001. Enriched uranium from the Portsmouth

site was used for national security applications and to fuel the nation’s commercial nuclear power

plants. The current DOE mission to clean up the site began in 1989.

Jobs in ‘heavy industry’ could follow

Originally published July 20, 2018 in the Chillicothe Gazette

PIKETON – For nearly three years, Steve Shepherd has been trying to drum up interest among developers in an 80-acre parcel of land located on a corner of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant site.

On Friday morning, the executive director of the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) officially received the biggest asset he could get to help in that quest — ownership of the land itself.

“I was able to give a presentation a couple years ago in Brussels (Belgium) and (have been) working with the European Union to discuss (development possibilities),” Shepherd said. “We’ve talked with them about cost-sharing and design and siting studies, but the main thing is also working with American companies through that process that have started showing interest in the site.

“We’re diligently working it, but we have some people who want further discussion. You have no project until you have land, so people will talk to you briefly, but that stops quickly once they find out you don’t own the property. So getting this signed today is a big deal that allows us to talk more freely, hopefully in the next year or so when we get additional property, that will give us a whole lot more opportunities because we’ll have a larger piece of property.”

Under a banner reading, “Reindustrialization Starts Today,” Shepherd joined Robert Edwards, the Department of Energy’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office manager, and Anne White, assistant secretary of environmental management for the Department of Energy, in a signing ceremony transferring ownership of the 80 acres from DOE to SODI. It is the first piece of property from cleanup operations at the DOE site to be cleared and transferred for redevelopment.

The property is located on the southeast portion of the property within Perimeter Road. It formerly contained a 1950s-era air strip, helicopter pad, rail spur, clean surplus and salvage storage yard and a personnel building. Last summer, an environmental assessment conducted by DOE looking at potential environmental consequences impacting the land transfer resulted in a finding of no significant impact.

Still, some Facebook chatter prior to Friday’s ceremony suggested DOE was transferring contaminated property over to SODI. Shepherd, in response, said he is confident in the condition of the property, particularly since its likely future use will be in the heavy industrial sector.

“The fact of the matter is, the Ohio EPA has to be the watchdog that makes sure that the property we get (is ready for redevelopment),” he said. “The process, it started in ’15 and it’s taken three years, that property has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb to make sure there’s no contamination. But that’s the start of it all. That property, and again, the next (expected) property were never part of the actual (uranium enrichment) operation, so you’re not going to see the contamination you’re probably going to see inside the fence.

“But we have to rely on Ohio EPA, the experts, that will make sure they clean it up to the proper level. I guess you also have to look at once they clean this up, the property we want is for heavy industrial, and any industrial sites you have are likely going to have some sort of contamination.”

During a brief ceremony conducted under a large tent on the property with thunder rumbling in the distance and a steady rain beginning to fall, the land transfer was celebrated as a milestone in the site cleanup.

“We did it,” Edwards said. “It’s been a long journey.”

White, who fairly recently was confirmed to her DOE assistant secretary post, talked about the overall progress of site cleanup work in Piketon, praised the efforts of the local workforce and expressed a commitment to partnerships such as the one with SODI that she said will lead to future development and jobs at the site.

The lineup of speakers also expressed appreciation to Ohio’s congressional delegation, particularly U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, for its support in securing funding for ongoing cleanup operations they said made the land transfer possible.

“This 80-acre land transfer from the Department of Energy to SODI is a major milestone and hopefully the first of many,” Portman said in a statement. “…I look forward to the development that will take place on this location and to the positive economic impact it will have on the region.”

With the infrastructure that exists at the site, Shepherd has a good idea of what that development will involve.

“What we’re looking at is just industry … heavy industry,” he said. “It is a nuclear site so it’s used to heavy industry, and those heavy industry jobs pay well, give living wages, and allow you to have a lot more jobs.”

DOE formally turns over 80 acres

Originally published July 20, 2018 in the Portsmouth Daily Times

With little, if any, mention of any the controversies swirling around the site, officials of the federal Department of Energy and Fluor BWXT, along with various local officials gathered Friday morning at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant – a.k.a. the Piketon A-plant – to celebrate what was termed a major milestone in the redevelopment of the defunct uranium enrichment plant sitting on 3,700 acres in Pike County.

“This is a happy day,” said Jeanne Wilson, a field representative for the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, largely summing up the comments of many in attendance at a brief ceremony, the highlight of which was the signing of various documents officially turning over 80 acres of now former DOE property to the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI.)

SODI is formally what is known as a Community Reuse Organization (CRO) for the former diffusion plant site. The group will oversee the reuse of the 80 acres released by DOE on Friday but also ultimately the entire plant site once demolition and decontamination work being completed by contractors Flour BWXT is complete. On Friday, various officials lauded the release of the first 80 acres of former plant land as a huge step in the right direction.

“We did it,” said Robert Edwards, manager of the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office for DOE. “It’s been a long process.” He added that process was not a simple one but one with lots of moving parts.

“This is a game changing moment for SODI,” said the group’s executive director Steve Shepherd in a press release. “The transfer of Parcel 1 expands SODI’s ability to attract prospective tenants. We appreciate everyone’s effort to bring this to fruition and are ready to make something new happen in Pike County.”

Following Friday’s ceremony, Shepherd told the Daily Times SODI has had discussions with various entities involved in developing the Piketon property. However, he also noted it is hard to sell property for redevelopment if you don’t have that property in hand. “No property, no project,” Shepherd added. “Now I’ve got the property.”

SODI Vice-President Dan Minter agreed saying past prospects couldn’t wait for the 80 acres to become available, that they had to act when it was right for them to act from a business standpoint. As did others, Minter talked a lot about the advantages of the site to include, but not limited to, a ready infrastructure boasting high-capacity sewers, rail lines and especially huge electrical power availability. Minter stated he is convinced SODI can overcome any negative publicity or bad reputation clouding the A-plant site.

In April, SODI and other parties involved, held an open house in Portsmouth highlighting the upcoming property transfer. At that time, officials spotlighted a 15-month study completed by Ohio University regarding how the land should be used. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the number one scenario picked by the public was a nuclear power plant, a potential scheme which earned 495 of 1,141 public votes cast during the OU study, which included persons from four counties: Pike, Scioto, Ross and Jackson. OU’s Stephen Howe said the diffusion plant was a longtime, integral part of the local community.

“People have become comfortable with the idea of nuclear power,” he added.

Regarding the 80 acres now available, the most likely use talked about in April seemed to be some sort of non-nuclear power plant, according to plans presented by OU and SODI. How long will it take for the plans for the power plant or whatever concept is ultimately adopted for the 80 acres to appear? Think in years, Shepherd explained in April.

The biggest controversy at the plant site is easily plans for what DOE and Flour BWXT refer to as an on-site waste disposal facility and what detractors call a radioactive waste dump. SODI’s Minter said he was not initially in favor of the facility. However, he noted, as have others, the plant site is dotted with old, long closed landfills. One idea behind the on-site disposal facility is to move materials from the existing landfills into the new disposal site, eliminating the existing landfills and creating more usable land at the plant site. The facility also will house debris from the enrichment plant’s many over-sized buildings.

Numerous local municipalities, including Portsmouth and the Village of Piketon, have passed resolutions opposing the disposal site. Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer is becoming one of DOE’s most vocal critics.

In recent comments to the Daily Times, Spencer described turning the 80 acres over to SODI as “useless.”

“You’re not giving SODI anything useful… I’m not very optimistic about any company coming out there.”

For months, Spencer has been battling DOE over a Freedom of Information Act request he said the village filed roughly three months ago. Spencer contends DOE, perhaps illegally, spent millions of dollars on design work for the disposal site prior to it being formally approved. With that and other factors in mind, he and other disposal site opponents have been lobbying for the reopening of the record of decision (ROD) which cleared the way for construction of the disposal facility.

“Clearly, the DOE and the contractor were motivated to steer a public process that resulted in on-site disposal. That means, unquestionably, the public process was tainted,” Spencer wrote in a letter to Anne Marie White, the assistant secretary of energy for environmental management, DOE.

The public process Spencer referred to presumably was a period DOE spent gathering public input on the waste disposal plan prior to approval of the ROD. A DOE spokesperson has stated the only way to stop construction of the waste disposal site is to reopen the ROD. That same spokesperson has repeatedly said that is highly unlikely to happen.

The letter to White was signed by Spencer and six members of Piketon Village Council. White attended Friday’s ceremony at the Piketon plant, praising the efforts that went into turning land over to SODI. At Spencer’s request, she later met privately with him and other Piketon officials.

“I got the impression she will give us a fair shake,” Spencer said following that meeting. “She’s given us more than we have ever gotten from DOE before.”

“She said she is going to look at things,” said Village Councilman Dennis Foreman, who was part of the meeting with White.

Foreman has been vocally opposed to the idea of the waste disposal facility and like Spencer is not optimistic about the future of the plant site. “No private entity is going to build out there,” he said. “There’s too much land available elsewhere.”