DOE Plans to Improve Safety, Health at Portsmouth Plant

A Department of Energy report cited shortcomings with Portsmouth's current safety\r\nprogram but said there was no immediate risk to workers or the\r\npublic.

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson Thursday issued the Department of Energy''s (DOE) report on its five month investigation of past and current practices effecting the environment, safety and health of workers and the public at the department''s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Southern Ohio.

"Our investigations of DOE environmental, safety and health practices during the Cold War help in determining additional steps we can take today to correct the wrongs of the past," said Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health Dr. David Micheals. "While this report confirms that workers and the public aren''t at risk, there are actions the department can take and will take to promote the safety and health of our workers and the public."

The report cited shortcomings with Portsmouth''s current safety program but said there was no immediate risk to workers or the public.

A 28-member team of environment, safety and health professionals conducted more than 200 interviews with managers and workers, observed work activities, inspected facility plans, conducted radiological surveys, reviewed hundreds of documents and analyzed groundwater, surface water, sediment and soil samples.

According to DOE, decisive actions have been taken to implement interim remedial actions to reduce the spread of contamination from waste areas and to public areas beyond the plant''s boundaries.

Significant progress has been made implementing existing cleanup agreements and regulations, and the Portsmouth plant is in full compliance with state and federal EPA requirements, said a DOE report.

The investigative team did not look at uranium enrichment operations conducted at the plant by the United States Enrichment Corp., which is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The report is based on the second in a series of three investigations of the department''s three gaseous diffusion plants. The investigative team already is at work on its third probe, at the nation''s only other gaseous diffusion plant, in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Richardson ordered the investigations last August when he learned of poor historical practices at the sites.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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