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Students participating in the Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER) Summary Project join EM representatives at a May 15 recognition ceremony at Piketon High School.
Students participating in the Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER) Summary Project join EM representatives at a May 15 recognition ceremony at Piketon High School.

UPDATED September 6, 2017: The ‘ASER 6’ Student Summary and a short video about the project featured in this article can be viewed at www.portsfuture.com. 

PIKETON, Ohio – Piketon High School sophomore Layne Mooran knew little about the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant when she began a project last year to help EM provide important information about the facility to the public.

   “When we started, I didn’t know what the plant was. I knew that was where uranium was enriched, but not so much about what’s going on now,” Mooran said.

   Mooran’s knowledge of the plant increased greatly by last month’s recognition ceremony at Piketon High, where EM officials congratulated the students who worked on the Ohio University Student Annual Site Environmental Report (ASER) Summary Project. The report details site environmental conditions and remediation efforts.

   “I liked learning about the plant, the direction it will take in the next 20 years, and the opportunities that exist,” Mooran said. “I’m not interested in engineering, but I’m interested in journalism and law and I saw where there could be careers for me at the site.”

   Ohio University oversees the project, each year tasking a local high school science class with distilling the lengthy ASER into a summary public document. Students from Katrina Queen’s chemistry classes at Piketon High completed the work this year. 

   Students benefit from engaging subject-matter experts on aspects of the project throughout the school year, Queen said. They get a better scientific understanding of the former Cold War facility, and more.

   “This is a very well-rounded project,” Queen said. “One of the most important aspects was how the STEM-related career opportunities were communicated, and even careers that were not related to STEM.” STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

   “It covered everything, and it showed how students can find a career at home after college. This was good outreach by DOE to spread knowledge about the plant and alleviate misconceptions,” she said.

   Daniel Kloepfer, who oversees the project for the university, said participation for the 2016-2017 school year set a record.

   “This is hands-down the largest number of students we’ve had involved. We had 51 students this year, so the benefit of the program was magnified,” Kloepfer said. “I always enjoy coming in at the beginning of the year and seeing blank stares with kids having no idea what’s going on, then by the end of the year it’s gratifying to see students come to a better understanding of the plant.”

   EM Site Lead Joel Bradburne and EM Program Analyst Greg Simonton thanked everyone who took part in the project at the May 15 ceremony.  

   Bradburne said the project supports a federal initiative to educate youth on STEM careers, and highlights the nation’s need to remain competitive in those areas.

   “The Student ASER Project allows many high school students every year to become some of our most informed stakeholders and this year is no exception. Katrina Queen and the students at Piketon have done a fantastic job and we want to thank Ohio University for its oversight of this excellent program,” Bradburne said. “We are opening students’ eyes to the possibilities that exist, all the while informing them of the site’s rich history and the role it played in winning the Cold War.”                                                          

   Built in the 1950s, the plant was the last of three large gaseous diffusion plants constructed in the United States to enrich uranium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program and Navy. Later, the plant enriched uranium for commercial nuclear reactors. It occupies about 1,200 acres of the 3,777-acre Portsmouth Site.  

   The site’s EM program began in 1989, when DOE signed a U.S. District Court Consent Decree and an Administrative Consent Order with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address the environmental legacy of past operations. Ohio EPA oversees cleanup.