The debate over the construction of a nuclear waste disposal facility at the Department of Energy (DOE) former gaseous diffusion plant site in Pike County was played out at Jackson City Council's meeting on Monday evening, Nov. 13.
Council is considering passage of a resolution opposing the construction of an on-site waste disposal facility, a project which was approved in 2015 and is already underway. Council heard from one of the opponents, Piketon resident Elizabeth Lamerson, at its Oct. 30 meeting. This resulted in council directing that an opposition resolution be drafted for consideration at the next meeting.
The Nov. 13 meeting began with city officials hearing comments and arguments from opponent John Markley, and proponents DOE Piketon Site Leader Joel Bradburne and Fluor-BWXT Director of Remediation Dr. J.D. Chiou. Similar dialogue has occurred at past meetings of the Jackson County commissioners.
Markley, a Jackson County resident who has worked in the fields of both chemical and environmental engineering, touted his Appalachian roots, that his interests were with the area and local residents, and that he was "one of us."
Referring to serious health problems that past employees have experienced at the Pike County site, Markley declared, "We rose to the task and we paid the price," and suggested the nuclear waste disposal facility represented another potential health risk to workers and area residents, including the threat of underground aquifers.
Markley advocates DOE transporting the radioactive waste off site and to more remote disposal sites in the western United States.
"They want to do this because it saves them money," Markley declared. "They end up saving money, but we end up with all the toxic waste. It's time to stand up for your friends and neighbors and tell DOE that enough is enough and support off-site disposal and be against on-site disposal. We should not have a garbage dump which will keep killing us."
The DOE and Fluor speakers countered that the on-site disposal facility project would not have been initiated and pursued if it were not believed to be completely safe. He noted that the proposal went through the regulatory process and is already underway and that work will continue in line with the amount of money provided by the U.S. Congress.
"Safety is something we don't compromise, and we take that very seriously," Bradburne told the city leaders. "We do everything by regulation and in accordance with the law. Safety is part of our culture at the site."
Dr. Chiou indicated studies and analyses were done which established the on-site nuclear waste facility option was a viable option and responded to Markley's earlier reference to "outsiders" by saying that he personally owes much to the U.S. and that he has dedicated himself to the safe cleanup of nuclear waste.
When Councilman George Kitchen expressed his personal opposition to placing the waste facility over an aquifer, Bradburne assured him that "gravity won't put it [waste] in the aquifer, you'd have to pump it."
Councilman Ron Queen asked if the waste could be hauled away. Bradburne said this was an option, but that it would be "quite expensive."
Queen then said he tends to be "conservative" on spending taxpayers' money, but also feels it would be preferable to "spend more to be safe."
When it came time to consider the resolution of opposition, there were not sufficient votes to make an immediate decision that evening as it requires six votes to "suspend the rules" and pass a piece of legislation without three readings.
Councilmen Kitchen, Queen, Loretta Jones, Jon Ondera and Brett Foster voted to suspend the rules, but Councilman Jon Hensler voted no. Councilman Jeff Elliott was absent. Consequently, a final and decisive vote was not taken, but the resolution will be considered again at council's next regular meeting on Monday, Nov. 27.