Capturing Half a Century of History at the Former Uranium Enrichment Plant

Brenda Gibson

February 26, 2013

In compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, work at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant is under way to preserve its history. Fluor-B&W Portsmouth LLC was contracted by the Department of Energy (DOE) for the expected decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) of the gaseous diffusion facilities, which were built in the early 1950s.

Preservation activities will focus on facilities designated as core function process buildings, support buildings, and non-mission buildings (i.e., hospital, cafeteria) associated with the “Cold War Era.” In addition, archaeological surveys are being performed to identify and evaluate historic farmsteads and prehistoric archaeological sites for National Registry eligibility.

“The DOE Portsmouth Site here in Piketon has a rich history with many amazing stories of the engineering and technological achievements,” DOE Site Director Dr. Vincent Adams said. “This Site is truly a remarkable part of America’s history, from the Cold War to the advancements in science and technology that remained central to many plant activities during the last half of the 20th century.”

Marc Hill, NHPA Site lead, is one of several project managers, archaeologists, and NHPA experts overseeing Site efforts to comply with Section 106 of the NHPA. The NHPA requires Federal agencies to consider their effect on potentially historic properties. DOE is proposing mitigation measures to lessen the impact on historic buildings within the scope of D&D.

Integrating NHPA requirements into the overall project is an extensive task. DOE activities are coordinated with the public, Ohio Historic Preservation Office, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and consulting parties. The public’s feedback on surveys and D&D work is essential to ensure that their expectations about activities at the plant, including historical documentation, are addressed.

“The employees, including former employees who have been long retired, are so willing to tell the story of activities that occurred during construction in the 1950s, when the Site culture flourished,” Hill said.

“The public has not had significant opportunity to examine the plant history, due to a previous level of DOE security and a ‘need-to-know only’ atmosphere maintained at the Site,” he said.

The NHPA strongly suggests that the public be notified with sufficient information to express their views during the various stages and decision-making points of the NHPA process.

At a public meeting, one visitor stopped by Hill’s booth and tearfully recalled her husband (who worked at the plant during construction) as saying “that one day, someone would finally tell our story.”

Additionally, the NHPA undertakings will include interviews with former employees, photographs, and detailed, written descriptions of the plant environment, and salvage items (which includes evaluating equipment parts, tools, or other items associated with the enrichment process).

Items held for NHPA evaluation will be categorized by their characteristics and made available for public viewing. In addition, a virtual museum has been developed to help share the story (