Friday, September 22, 2000

Nuclear sites list shocks some

Oakley company, neighbor both surprised name was included

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Oakley resident Marcia Engleman said she was shocked Thursday to discover that she has lived for 12 years within sight of a company where “radioactive or toxic materials may have been secretly processed for the U.S. nuclear weapons program.”

        Ohmart/Vega Corp., 4241 Allendorf Road, was among 24 Tristate companies named in some editions of Thursday's Enquirer. It was part of a nationwide list of more than 550 such firms obtained from the U.S. Department of Energy and published Thursday by USA Today. The list is part of a federal re-examination of environmental and health risks linked to private companies involved decades ago in weapons produc tion.

        “That building sits right in the middle of a residential area. I can see it from my yard,” Mrs. Engleman said. “I think people in the neighborhood would be very interested in knowing what they were doing, when they stopped doing it and what they did with the waste.”

        Carol Ritter, Ohmart's vice president of administration, was just as shocked as Mrs. Engleman to see her company's name on the list.

        The company employs 110 people who make industrial gauges, not bombs. And as far as Ms. Ritter knows, none of their work is secret or even closely related to weapons production.

        “We've had calls from neighbors asking us, "What are you guys doing? Are you polluting the neighborhood?'” Ms. Ritter said. “We don't know why we're on the list.”

        The list of 24 local companies includes truly vital parts of the weapons complex, such as the former Fernald uranium processing plant near Ross; the uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky.; and the Mound research complex outside Dayton, Ohio.

        But the list also includes a host of large and small companies whose connections to the Cold War are far less obvious, and may be extremely indirect or nonexistent.

        For example, Ohmart does handle radioactive material. It has a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to obtain, store and use small amounts of cesium-137, which is used in its measuring devices.

        The radioactive material, purchased from another company, comes encased in double-walled stainless steel capsules that are installed in the gauges and shipped to customers, Ms. Ritter said.

        During its 50 years of business, the company might have sold gauges to a DOE contractor, Ms. Ritter said. The company doesn't know for sure because it hasn't reviewed sales records.

        But even if Ohmart had a big supply contract, that's a far cry from the issue that led to publishing the list — private contractors secretly hired to make bomb parts in the early days of the Cold War.

        “We haven't "processed' any radioactive materials, secretly or otherwise,” Ms. Ritter said.


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