Thursday, March 24, 2011

Class Action Lawsuit Over Radioactive Pollution in East Tennessee

Vivid fears of radioactive pollution in Japan have prompted much-needed attention here in the U.S. on the storage and usage of nuclear material. The grim picture in East Tennessee is gaining attention as well.

A class action lawsuit over radioactive pollution in the Nolichucky River is being prepared against Erwin, TN's Nuclear Fuel Services plant. Residents around the facility are attending meetings to consider the suit, and concerns have been steadily growing since a recent study has shown the radioactive contamination might also be affecting drinking water in Greeneville, TN as well.

The Nolichucky River, located downstream from the Erwin NFS plant, is contaminated with enriched uranium. The river serves as a source of water for Greeneville, Tennessee, as well as surrounding communities. As we’ve reported previously, there are no known sources of enriched uranium in the area other than NFS. The facility produces nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy and processes weapons-grade uranium into fuel for nuclear power plants.

Last year, the radioactive material in the Nolichucky River was discovered by Michael Ketterer, a chemistry professor at Northern Arizona University and specialist uranium contamination. According to an earlier report in the Greeneville Sun, Ketterer’s study, believed to be the first scientific research on water and soil outside the boundaries and downstream from the NFS plant, states that an apparent entry point of the enriched uranium-contaminated water into the surface water is through underground discharges from seeps and springs.

Ketterer was commissioned to conduct the research by regional environmental groups opposed to the 40-year renewal of the operating license for the NFS facility. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is expected to rule on that issue sometime this year.

From the 2010 Greeneville Sun report cited above:

Then came perhaps the most dramatic moment of the evening when Wallack asked: "Is NFS discharging highly-enriched uranium into the Nolichucky River -- yes, or no?"

There was no reply from NRC officials.

At that point, Marie Moore, NFS's environmental and industry safety manager, who was seated in the back of the room, said: "Yes, but there are limits."

"And you're telling me that (Nolichucky River) water is safe?" Wallack asked.

"From NRC's perspective, yes," Cobey said."

Also, a group of filmmakers are working on a documentary "Atomic Appalachia" to report on the widespread signs of contamination in the soil, water and air from NFS.

NFS has a record of systemic failures and has been cited for a "deficient safety culture" for a large release of uranium in 2006, and that it was only a "matter of luck" the leak was not worse. But problems and accidents have been constant at the facility for years and years.

One NFS employee was fired, she says, for reporting accidents and safety failures at NFS, in this report from

UPDATE, RELATED STORY: Federal charges against TVA Nuke plant worker announced.


  1. Anonymous8:13 AM

    Thanks for popping our bubble that we try to live inside Joe. Workers being able to voice concerns at NFS are the same as workers in the WV coalmine which exploded. The recent attack on collective bargaining can also be blamed for making workers more vulnerable to company retaliation.

  2. I grew up in Unicoi and had Hodgkins Disease in 1981. There had been a uranium loss a year before I got sick. 30 years and 16 surgeries later, I thimk I am a testament to the problem. Yes it really is safe to live in Unicoi County. My prom date and another boy i dated had Hodgkins Disease in the same year.Also several of my classmates have died from it Unicoi County needs to take a long hard look at what it has done to themselves and their children.Shame on all of you for allowing this to happen.It is far from safe and never will be