Area should celebrate death of GNEP

Area should celebrate death of GNEP

By GEOFFREY SEA • Guest columnist

Remember Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, the Bush nuclear wonder-program supposed to bring us “6,000 local jobs?” A jobs bonanza was promised at Piketon, so worthwhile as to warrant the postponement of public oversight and major site cleanup.

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Now the GNEP dinosaur is dead.

In October, the National Academy of Sciences slammed the program as a hugely expensive exercise in sci-fi fantasy. In June, the House Appropriations Subcommittee provided “no funding for the Administration’s counterproductive, poorly designed, and poorly executed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP)” in its markup of the 2009 budget. In July, the Department of Energy canceled the siting process for GNEP “facilities,” and tossed away the “candidate list” on which Piketon was included.

Look for those 6,000 jobs to materialize just as soon as the “Mission to Mars” succeeds.

Piketon wasn’t your average GNEP candidate site. At least as early as 2004 – three years after the gaseous diffusion plant at Piketon shut down – it was proposed to empty the old process buildings and pack them with spent nuclear fuel, saving cleanup costs and solving the problem caused by failure of the Yucca Mountain disposal project. Thus, Piketon was targeted as the unique centralized storage location and transit hub for high-level nuclear waste.

To implement that plan, USEC purchased NAC International, the leading U.S. company in the transportation and storage of spent nuclear fuel. Dennis Spurgeon, the Chief Operating Officer of USEC, moved to the Department of Energy, to become chief of the GNEP program. And former USEC board member Dan Moore founded a company in Cleveland called the Piketon Initiative for Nuclear Independence, or ePIFNI.

ePIFNI partnered with the local development corporation SODI to form the Southern Ohio Nuclear Integration Cooperative, or SONIC. In its 2006 application for GNEP funds, SONIC wrote: “Separate from this proposal, though integral to it, SONIC has proposed a spent nuclear fuel (SNF) storage facility at Portsmouth [Piketon] …” Representatives of SONIC and DOE have since denied that any such separate proposal exists.

Republican Congress members David Hobson and Jean Schmidt were on hand after Bush’s unveiling of GNEP to say Piketon would be the ideal candidate site. And when Schmidt was challenged on the issue in the 2006 campaign, AP reported “[Schmidt’s] chief of staff, Barry Bennett, said Thursday the community is already comfortable with having nuclear material in its backyard.”

Local residents had not yet been informed of the proposal. Schmidt’s home is 67 air miles from Piketon.

Lest there be doubt about the nature of the facility planned for Piketon, Hobson removed that in questions to Dennis Spurgeon during congressional hearings on GNEP in March 2007. Hobson prodded Spurgeon to reveal that only one “community” had “offered to host” the centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel, separate from the “process storage” that would accompany a new production plant. Hobson wanted more money for the GNEP contractors at Piketon on that basis.

Republicans weren’t alone on the waste-dumping gravy train. Democratic Pike County Commissioner Teddy West and auditor Teddy Wheeler, both of whom sit on the SODI board, joined in the “unanimous” SODI vote to join the SONIC partnership, with full knowledge of what it entailed. Blaine Beekman, now running for county commissioner as a Democrat, resigned from the SODI board around the time of the SONIC partnership but wouldn’t say why. Then he became the chief booster of SONIC’s GNEP bid as director of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce.

Their friend Ted Strickland campaigned against any reprocessing or “waste dumping” at Piketon, but then wrote two endorsement letters in support of SONIC GNEP funding. Dan Moore, the SONIC president, had contributed $10,000 to the Strickland campaign – a contribution found fishy by the Cleveland Plain Dealerbecause Strickland’s financial reporting failed to identify Moore’s occupation.

Preservationist Teddy Roosevelt, after whom the local Teddies were named, is now spinning or spitting in his grave.

Jumping from the GNEP train before it crashes has become a practiced political art. Faced with clear community opposition, the Democrats on the SODI board adopted a “Statement of Principles” rejecting centralized spent fuel storage under GNEP. Similarly, Republican Jean Schmidt introduced a bill (never enacted) called the Nuclear Waste Storage Prohibition Act – a curious thing because no part of the text prohibits waste storage.

These moves tried to separate the taint of SNF storage from the train-wreck of GNEP, but they do nothing to prevent the revival of waste dumping plans with a new administration, under a new name. In the 2008 Budget Omnibus Bill, Congress instructed DOE to explore a centralized SNF storage facility at a DOE site that had “offered to host” such storage during the GNEP siting process.

That means Piketon, and neither the SODI principles nor the Schmidt legislation inhibit it in any way. Schmidt and SODI, it must be remembered, were the agents of record who “offered to host.” Nor would the new Site-Specific Advisory Board stop it – that board has no jurisdiction over future use of the site.

While the GNEP dinosaur is dead, its angry tail still thrashes about. One day after John McCain’s town hall meeting in Portsmouth, McCain accused Barack Obama of being “against the storage of spent nuclear fuel.” That is a reference to Piketon, my friends – no other central location has been proposed.

When the GNEP scheme was publicized, they said it was a done deal. Now that deal has been undone by the strength of our community, against the collusion and cover-ups of area “leaders.” Three hundred angry area residents showed up at the Piketon GNEP field hearing in 2007. Five thousand southern Ohio residents signed the SONG petition against GNEP. DOE received more than 14,000 public comments from around the country, a large percentage from Ohio. Take pride.

The extinction of GNEP is cause to celebrate. It can mean real jobs and environmental restoration that come with site cleanup and community-based redevelopment. But that redevelopment cannot be left in the hands of the leaders who attempted to lead us straight over a cliff.

Geoffrey Sea is co-founder of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group and a resident on the fence-line of the Piketon federal reservation

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