Thursday, Congressmen, Commissioners, cancer patients, teachers, representatives, businessmen, and concerned citizens gathered to hear why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to renew Erwin Nuclear Fuel’s operating license for another 25 years. Congressman Phil Roe and representatives for Senator Bob Corker were in attendance.
Starting in 2009, the NRC performed several parts of two main assessments: safety - dealing with chemical processes, management measures, radiation protection, recordkeeping, fire safety, emergency management, and financial assurance for possible decommissioning, and environmental - land, air, soil, water, and noise, as well as waste management and public health. Both assessments were judged to be within NRC acceptability limits, with the summary of environmental impact labeled SMALL, with a SMALL to MODERATE impact to land use, transportation, soils, and groundwater, and a MODERATE impact to public and occupational health, specifically from accidents. Therefore, a full environmental study was deemed unnecessary.
A yellow dye dropped into the sinkhole at Love Chapel School appeared in surface water on the Nolichuckey River, next to the Erwin Linear Trail. Denis Nedelman of Cherokee Adventures asked how often water is tested near NFS. NRC officials assured the crowd that NFS must take samples of air, soil, and water from the Nolichuckey and from Martin’s Creek, which is analyzed at Oak Ridge.
The school sinkhole is the second one found in less than a year, about 310 feet away from each other. NRC officials said the sinkholes are not considered an immediate safety concern, but they are studying the geology of the area “more carefully”. It was determined that Love Station Road is on a line between a Rome Foundation and a Shady Dolemite region. Environmental Assessment Project Manager James Park said the sinkholes possibly point to more Dolemite in that area, especially between the two sinkholes.
NFS originally applied for a 40 year license renewal, but changed to 25 years after NRC focused on its (quote) “poor compliance history”. NFS has several commitments to improve its safety culture, some of which may take decades to complete. Kevin Ramsey, speaking for licensing and safety review, told the crowd that NRC has never exercised the shorter license renewal for any plant before this, and that “we’ve never really said no to anyone before”.
Ramsey said that the NRC maintains the authority to modify, or even suspend the license if significant new problems are identified.