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Citizens confront Nuclear Fuel Services regulator over environmental, public health concerns

Jessica Fuller • Apr 20, 2017 at 9:56 PM

ERWIN — A biennial safety performance review that concluded Erwin’s Nuclear Fuel Services is continuing to operate safely brought out concerned citizens who questioned the report’s conclusion.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewed the report which spanned from Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2016, and included several enforcement issues in the presentation, including two instances of failure to treat mixed waste and failure to maintain records of maintenance and inspection testing of the facility’s fire protection systems.

The NRC ruled that NFS doesn’t need to improve any areas in its safety culture based on the two-year investigation period.

“An absence of areas needing improvement does not mean that performance in functional areas that we inspect does not have to be improved or enhanced,” NRC representative Charlie Stancil said. “Early detection with comprehensive corrective actions to address these performance issues are key to sustaining safe and secure operations and performance as we go forward.”

NFS President Joel Duling said that NFS hasn’t had any employee injuries since 2013, and the plant is coming up on 5 million work hours without reported work injuries. He said that’s a record for NFS’s 60 years of operations.

“It’s a pretty big milestone for any industry,” Duling said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re on the right track. We’re always looking for ways to get better.”

After the presentations, the public was allowed to speak, and commenters had nothing but concern and distrust to hand to the board of NRC inspectors and company representatives. While some inquirers cited specific events listed in the violation reports for comment, others had other bones to pick with the NRC on issues such as public health and environmental safety. A recurring topic brought up by audience members was the discontinuation of an $8 million cancer study that was canceled in 2015.

Jonesborough citizen Linda Modica was questioned the representatives with documentation in her hands. She asked about the levels of plutonium that showed up in the reports, and NRS representative Kevin Ramey said those trace amounts have a dose limit set at 100 milligrams, which he went on to explain means is the limit that a person could ingest either by air or water for an entire year.

“I understand your concern that there’s stuff there you’d rather not be exposed to,” Ramey said. “The commission has made a decision that the regulations we have are protective of the public, and that’s something that we can’t change, that’s something only the commission can change.”

Modica, a two-time cancer survivor, said it is personal issue to her, and said that wasn’t good enough.

“We need the government to reduce the risk of cancer by eliminating these radioactive toxins that are being put in our air and water,” Modica said. “Those numbers need to be zero.”

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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