Some Piketon Residents Unhappy About Nuclear Power Plant

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Sheila Ferrell is a life-long resident of Piketon. Ferrell is against a nuclear power plant coming to her town. She's afraid of the health risks.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Sheila Ferrell is a life-long resident of Piketon. Ferrell is against a nuclear power plant coming to her town. She's afraid of the health risks.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

Nuclear Power is drawing mixed reviews among residents of Southern Ohio Governor Strickland and other officials Thursday are expected to announce plans to build a nuclear power plant in Piketon. Some residents welcome the thousands of jobs the plant would create; others worry about the health risks.

The village of Piketon is about an hour and a half south of Columbus and was once home to a uranium enrichment plant. In the next decade or so it could be home to a nuclear power plant.

Piketon’s Mayor Billy Spencer – calling while on vacation in Canada – said he supports the plans.

“I think it’s a good deal. Certainly for Piketon, but for the whole southern part of the state,” he said.

Building the nuclear facility could take at least ten years and would employ as many as 4,000 construction workers.

Spencer said he’s not exactly sure how his constituents will react to having a nuclear power plant in their backyard – but he does not think many should be too surprised.

“We’ve had a uranium enrichment plant in our backyard since 1953,” Spenser said.

In fact Spencer and his wife both have worked at the uranium plant. The mayor for 30 years and his wife more than 20.

“I think it’s just a way of life for us down here. The enrichment plant certainly has provided good jobs, good paying jobs for a lot of folks and I don’t think there will be a lot of negative feelings about the power plant,” he said.

Life-long Piketon resident Sheila Ferrell sits outside a coin-operated laundry mat.

“When I heard about this and read about it in the paper just a few minutes ago, I thought, here we go again. What is it this time?”

Ferrell said some of her friends and even her ex-husband died from cancer. She blames the former uranium enrichment plant. Ferrell said, yes, it could bring a lot of jobs to the town, but she wonders what else it could bring.

“A lot of people have passed on because of the cancer they get from over there…you know, lung cancer, tumors, you name it. And it’s all related to that over there,” Ferrell said.

Aaron Scaff has lived in Piketon for much of his 37 years. He’s a carpenter.

“They should of cleaned this place up and moved on someplace else.”

Scaff’s not fond of a nuclear power plant in his town, and for the same reason as Ferrell. He said numerous family members have died from cancer, all but one of his mother’s nine brothers and sisters.

“And I buried my mom two years ago with cancer. (And you attribute it to the uranium?) It come from somewhere, I don’t know where, but, yeah. This it’s he nastiest water, if you drink Piketon water, take a shower in Piketon water, you know there’s something going on around here,” Scaff said.

Federal health researchers have studied cancer rates in Pike County and other parts of southern Ohio and found they are no higher than state and national averages. But the federal government has compensated uranium plant workers and their families for millions of dollars in medical costs.

Not every Piketon resident feels like Scaff and Ferrell. Gale Parsons said her husband could soon lose his job.

“I mean it’d be pretty cool if he could get another job and us wouldn’t have to move away because our family’s here,” Parsons said. And Larry Braniff, another Piketon lifer, works at Ohio Valley Electric that used to supply the electricity to the uranium enrichment plant. He said he does not buy that all the cancer in the town is linked to the uranium plant.

“That could be a good thing. Nuclear power’s a good power to have. We work with coal generation down there. So, you know, a nuclear axle power plant might be beneficial for the area for jobs and stuff like that,” Braniff said.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown said he’s open-minded out nuclear power. Although 20 years ago he was not convinced it was safe.

“I think there have been major strides. I’m not 100 percent sold yet, but I want to see what they’re doing,” Brown said.

If built the Piketon Nuclear Power plant would be the first plant approved after Pennsylvania’s Three -Mile Island Nuclear Accident in 1979.