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Pike County Students Receive Unique Experience

Brittany Murray
February 28, 2013

Students in Pike County, Ohio receive a unique experience unlike many others. Juniors and seniors enrolled in Environmental Science classes at the schools work in collaboration with professional staff at Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs to prepare their own version of the most recent Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER). The purpose of this report is to provide a brief overview of the full ASER report in hopes of engaging the public to learn more about the environmental aspects and activities at the plant.

The project has two aspects: the first, to educate the high school students about the activities, as well as opportunities, at the PORTS site; the second, to develop materials that make the report more understandable to others. The PORTS site was one of three gaseous diffusion plants in the U.S. built to enrich uranium to fuel military reactors and for nuclear weapon production. In later years, PORTS took on a different mission: the production of low-enriched uranium designed to fuel commercial nuclear power plants all over the world. In 2001, uranium enrichment production ceased at the Ohio plant.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Energy completes an ASER about the environmental conditions of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, as well as the accompanying grounds. DOE continues to plan and implement the decontamination and decommissioning that was initiated in 2007 of the old gaseous diffusion plant facilities and associated buildings. This includes removing equipment, demolishing buildings, disposing of waste, and investigating potential contamination beneath the demolished buildings.

The Voinovich School's Margaret Hutzelstates, "The DOE is involved in monitoring all of this in order to keep the public safe… They have to be very careful." She explains that the contaminated items are put into crates as part of the disposal process to prevent contamination.

Hutzel has been involved with this project for almost two years. She says, "I've really enjoyed working with the high school students." Hutzel meets with the students about three times a month to work on writing the summary. She explains, "I think it's a pretty unique high school experience. It's a really valuable project, and the students are learning a lot."

The students are divided into groups with regard to the different subjects covered in the report. Subject matter experts then come in to talk to the students about the ASER report, the plant, and related topics. Hutzel states, "The students are very interested and engaged in the project. They ask a lot of really great questions." She adds, "I feel like in a small little way, it helps break down the barrier between high school and college." Many of the guest speakers have been professors and faculty of Ohio University, the University of Rio Grande, and Fluor B&W Portsmouth (FBP), which is the lead contractor at the site.

Hutzel stated, "We wanted to target schools in Pike County, at least to start with, because it's the closest to the DOE facility." She explained that many of the students are already familiar with the plant because of its proximity and some have family members who have worked there. She adds, "We might select schools out of Pike County in the years to come if we can keep the project going."

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