Portsmouth site tour serves as reunion for 17 family members


From left to right: Jim and Helen Courson, and Roy Landberg.

The 17 members of the Kielmar family who took part in the site tour.

PIKETON, Ohio — A recent public tour of the Department of Energy’s Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant may have seemed like a reunion for 17 members of the Kielmar family.

Kathy Nelson, who works in contractor Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth’s (FBP) human resources department, and her brothers David and Rich Kielmar, who work in FBP and contractor Wastren Advantage security, respectively, joined their family members on the tour.

It was the first time their aunt and two uncles had returned to the plant since working there during the site’s early construction more than 60 years ago. Jim Courson, 89, and his wife, Helen (Kielmar) Courson, 91, live in California. Roy Landberg, 93, lives in Michigan.

Portsmouth Site Lead Joel Bradburne with the Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office said the plant is rich in history and employees have always taken pride in their work to protect the nation.

“We’ve seen time and again former employees coming back for these public tours because they realize that their work played a role in the United States winning the Cold War,” Bradburne said. “The Portsmouth Site is a great American story and those who played a role in it deserve our respect and heartfelt gratitude.”

Helen Courson was eager to see how the site has changed. Her job in the X-100 Administration Building included making copies at the “duplicating machine.” The catch was, she wasn’t allowed to look at any of the documents she was copying.

“There was always a man standing nearby, pulling the copies off the machine,” she recalled. “He made sure the copies were light enough, dark enough, or just right.”

Her husband was a drafting engineer who worked on process building piping drawings.

“They were doing the piping and engineering for some of the systems there that I couldn’t get into,” Jim Courson said. “When I saw the (floodwall) mural in Portsmouth (city) — they have a beautiful picture of the plant on the wall. I couldn’t even make out where in the world I used to work at the plant. We haven’t been out there for a long while.”

Jim Courson worked at other nuclear facilities, including Newport, Indiana’s Heavy Water Plant (for making atomic weapons), DuPont at Savannah River (where he was in charge of drafting and instrumentation), and Grinell in Charlotte, where he worked on glass process piping for the Oak Ridge plant.

He fondly recalled how he and his good friend Landberg met their wives.

“Roy and I were buddies at the A-Plant,” he said. “One night, we went out and stopped in at a night club, the Trade Winds. It turned out that Helen and her sister Emma were there and we asked them to dance.”

Jim Courson and Landberg worked on plans for the process building piping for the X-326, X-330, X-333, and X-340 complex. Landberg was a mechanical field engineer. During the tour he remembered the half-mile-long process buildings and the X-300 Facility control room as they looked to him in the 1950s. He resides with his son and daughter-in-law in Riverview, Michigan. His wife died earlier this year.

Other family members present for the tour included Kelly Coriell-Kielmar (Rich Kielmar’s wife), Teri Kielmar and Shannon Grice (David Kielmar’s wife and daughter), Stephen Kielmar (Roy Landberg’s son), cousins Rex Lloyd and Karen Owens, James and Katrina Kielmar (their brother and sister-in-law), Linda Rigsby (their sister), and her husband, Duane Rigsby.

After the tour, they reminisced with family members at St. Mary’s Church Fellowship Hall in Portsmouth, enjoying some of their favorite family recipes, memories, and family movies.