How Piketon Ohio Became a Potemkin Village/by Geoffrey Sea | March 16, 2008

Dear Friends,

The following Op-Ed piece by Geoffrey Sea may help explain some of the recent news and complexities of developments at Piketon. Please disseminate it widely, and encourage readers to attend the SONG community meeting at 4 pm, and the DOE public meeting at 6 pm, on Tuesday, March 18, at the OSU Endeavor Center in Piketon.

A truncated version of this piece appears in the Sunday, March 16, Pike County News Watchman. We hope other papers will also carry it. You are free to reprint or post it, but please let us know if you do.Hope to see you Tuesday!

Your neighbors at SONG


How Piketon Became a Potemkin Village

By Geoffrey Sea


When the Russian czarina toured war-ravaged Crimea in 1797, she viewed hundreds of hollow buildings and false fronts, momentarily populated by jovial village actors. Her minister, Grigori Potemkin, had engineered the grand theatrical production to boost his own political career. Hence the term Potemkin village – the mock display of a boomtown that is really bust.

Politicians now tour the ravaged lower Scioto Valley in election years, to announce grand new atomic projects, secured by none other than themselves, that will bring “many thousands” of new jobs.

In 2004, it was USEC’s “American Centrifuge Plant,” stewarded by a company acknowledged to have run a technology scam once before, convincing gullible investors that USEC had developed “atomic vapor lasers” it really hadn’t. The hollow buildings to house USEC’s newest boondoggle, were and are already standing – built in the 1980s to house the DOE’s Gas Centrifuge Enrichment Plant, another bit of stagecraft that never acquired innards.


Spin, gas, and vaporware, but no jobs.


By election time in 2006, USEC was already a year overdue in demonstrating the commercial viability of its gargantuan centrifuges. To distract attention, politicians of both parties (area Democrats teamed with congressional Republicans) signed off on “the American Recycling Facility,” never defined as to exactly what it was.

Two or four or six thousand jobs would supposedly come from the nebulous nothing – those numbers pulled from the nether regions of Cleveland politician and “entrepreneur” Dan Moore. Moore received $674,000 in federal “study money,” half of which went to AREVA, the national nuclear company of France. “Volume 1, Number 1” of a project newsletter appeared, containing a rather bad “typo” mixing up uranium and plutonium. There has been no newsletter number 2.

Ohio Congressman David Hobson asked the Department of Energy for additional money for Moore, on the argument that only one “community” has “offered to host” centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel without a production plant, meaning this one. Certainly no jobs from that. Wisely, Mr. Hobson is now retiring.

Ted Strickland, who had campaigned against waste storage or reprocessing at Piketon, promptly reversed his position once in office as Governor, and also appealed to the Energy Secretary on Moore’s behalf. Strickland had received at least $10,000 for his gubernatorial campaign from Dan Moore, but was unable to identify Moore’s occupation on contribution reporting forms, which the Cleveland Plain Dealer found rather odd.

Congress ended 2007 by slashing funds for any new reprocessing project and canceling any deployment or siting plans. However, Congress also instructed DOE to pursue centralized waste storage on the basis of “hosting” offers already received. Because of the application submitted by Mr. Moore, the number of identified host sites stands at one, and that one is Piketon.

With the 2008 election year, facades have started to fall. Despite deceptive press releases, USEC is thirty months past deadline on demonstration with none in sight; cost estimates have doubled; and USEC stock is down 83% from its high last May, losing almost 10% of value on Friday.

But have no fear. Strickland, on the stump with Bill Clinton in Portsmouth, said he wants the USEC lease terminated, acknowledging the project is a flop. (Since Clinton is the culprit who privatized USEC in 1998, with disastrous results, the occasion of the announcement was appropriate.)

However, Strickland wants the Piketon site handed over to AREVA, so AREVA can build a new uranium enrichment plant instead.

So let’s review. No American Centrifuge Plant and no American Recycling Facility – “domestic” projects advertised as patriotic. But we will get a French Centrifuge Plant, on U.S. government land, offered in covert negotiations by the Governor of Ohio. The operator will be the same French company that already ran away with half the U.S. funds provided for the “study” of the Piketon site by Strickland’s big campaign contributor.

Okay, whatever. Maybe it’s true that the Department of Justice has closed shop.

And oh, by the way, AREVA is more interested in a site in Idaho.

Back in Potemkin, Ohio, the village actors are looking less jovial. Given the fake promises, DOE had jumped to the conclusion that it didn’t really have to clean up the site. Near-term jobs and long-term industry depend on cleanup

Hoping to make Piketon a waste dump, DOE decided it didn’t need a real Citizens Advisory Board representing residents, workers and American Indian tribes, as required by law. So Piketon, alone among the major DOE sites in the country, has never had a C.A.B. Grigori Potemkin himself could not have engineered a finer act of public deception.

A comprehensive and chartered C.A.B. would empower the community to demand and disseminate real information about what is happening under the hollow shells.

It is federal land. It belongs to us, the American people. The proprietary rights are ours and do not belong to companies from Cleveland or governments in France or self-selecting local “leaders” or any of the politicians they employ.

When a chartered C.A.B. is established, federal law bars any individual with a clear conflict of interest from serving on it. That applies especially to Gregory Simonton and associates. Simonton directs SODI, the “Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative,” which by partnering with Moore, subjected our area to the possibility of becoming a nuclear waste storage dump.

SODI has now pushed two different plans to avoid and subvert the establishment of a genuine community advisory board. Despite the obstruction, there will be a comprehensive and chartered C.A.B., and then the region will need a new development authority, subject to Sunshine laws, to work cooperatively with it.

Southern Ohio Neighbors Group will host a community meeting on these issues on Tuesday, March 18, 4 to 6 pm, at the OSU Endeavor Center West on Shyville Road in Piketon. The Department of Energy will sponsor a public meeting on cleanup and “public participation” immediately following, 6 to 8 pm at the Endeavor Center East.

Bring your torches and pitchforks (figuratively speaking). A little revolt by the real villagers is long overdue.


Geoffrey Sea is a writer who lives on the fence line of the Piketon federal reservation and is a co-founder of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group. Contact: SargentsPigeon@aol.com

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