Groups fight Nuclear Fuels procession expansion in Erwin
Published 10:09 am Tuesday, May 9, 2023
(TNS) Environmental groups want to stop the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin from refining highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
The plant already manufactures fuel material for nuclear reactors used in Navy submarines and aircraft carriers. While Nuclear Fuel Services awaits approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a meeting is set for May 18 to review the plant’s current work.
Buckey Boone, co-chair of the Appalachian Peace Education Center, said it is the perfect opportunity for local residents to voice their concerns about the new production plans. Boone added the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuclear Fuel Services $496 million in contracts, distributed in two phases, to do the work.
“They have to have a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and that’s what we are struggling; resisting against,” Boone explained. “If they don’t get the license, even though they’ve got the money, they can’t do that work. And we don’t think they should be doing the work for safety, health reasons.”
Proponents of the plant point to the jobs and economic impact of the plant in the local area. But Boone’s group thinks the commission should reconsider the license for Nuclear Fuel Services, citing an explosion at the plant earlier this year that sent several people to the hospital.
Linda Cataldo Modica, president of the Erwin Citizens Awareness Network, described the group as a nuclear-industry watchdog. She noted they petitioned the commission for a hearing on the Erwin plant’s request for a license amendment to process uranium for nuclear weapons, but their request was denied by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
“We have the appeal that’s active in front of the full Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chair and members,” Modica pointed out. “That is, right now, the status. APEC has been a partner with us as we work to campaign against this nuclear weapons project.”
“APEC” is the Appalachian Peace Education Center. Modica added the plant has reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission its proposal wouldn’t affect the “job market in Unicoi County and the surrounding area.”
Modica’s group would like to have seen the government reallocate the half-billion dollars to add clean energy jobs and expand solar, wind and geothermal capacity in East Tennessee.