Ohio School Closes After Enriched Uranium Discovered Inside

by Kim Boateng Posted on May 16th, 2019

A Pike County, Ohio, middle school has been closed after enriched uranium was discovered inside. The enriched uranium was detected inside Zahn’s Corner Middle School, according to a letter from the Scioto Valley Local School District.

The letter states the U.S. Department of Energy air monitor adjacent to the middle school also detected neptunium 237 — a byproduct of nuclear reactors and plutonium production.

The district has closed the middle school through the end of the school year. A longer closure is possible, district officials said.

Authorities are working to determine the source, extent and level of contamination.

“Even the last couple of hours have been very hectic,” Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt said. “There’s just not a playbook in how we deal with this. We’re kind of writing the script as we go.”

Burkitt made the call Monday to cancel classes at the middle school for the remainder of the school year, cutting the school year short for approximately 320 students and 25 staff members. The Ohio Department of Education said the students have already fulfilled their required instruction hours for the year and will not need to make up the missed days.

“We’re not going to take any chances on someone’s child. We just won’t do that,” Burkitt said.

School officials are pushing to have more testing done to determine the extent of contamination in the school. Leaders also want scientific evidence proving where the enriched uranium is coming from. Many already have their minds made up, pointing to the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant approximately two miles from the school.

The school district says the Department of Energy must take appropriate action to ensure radiological contaminants are not being released from the now-shuttered plant, which produced enriched uranium from 1954 until 2001.

The Department of Energy is currently conducting an environmental cleanup of the site.

Senior Department of Energy officials released the following statement to WLWT: “Routine air samples in the area of DOE’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon revealed trace amounts of two radiological isotopes that were more than one thousand to ten thousand times below the established threshold of public health concern. DOE treats all detections seriously – even those that are at such low levels.”

“The Department of Energy is committed to the safety, health and protection of our workforce, the general public and the environment at all our sites. Accordingly, we are working together with the local officials and stakeholders to engage an independent third party to perform an additional analysis of the air and ground readings to properly assess the situation. We are confident that those findings will allay any cause for further concern.”

“We aren’t prepared for something like this, that’s for sure,” said Jennifer Chandler, Village of Piketon councilwoman. “We, at this point, don’t know how far the contamination has reached. That will be part of the ongoing investigation.”

Part of the testing included homes and bodies of water, which Chandler said also tested positive for enriched uranium and neptunium.

Both materials are radioactive and significant exposure could lead to cancer, according to Piketon health officials.

“I attended this school from kindergarten to sixth grade and so did my husband, and all three of my children attended this school, so it is scary to think about,” Chandler said.

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