ERWIN — Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting Thursday evening to address frequently asked questions and concerns about the Nuclear Fuel Services facility through three separate presentations.
While presentations on NRC rules and regulations regarding radiation exposure and the NRC’s enforcement process were presented, the presentation regarding a study to be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences seemed to garner the most interest and questions from those in attendance in the auditorium of Unicoi County High School.
The study is intended to serve as an update to a 1990 study conducted by the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute, which found no increased risk of death from cancer for people living near nuclear facilities.
Dr. Kevin Crowley with the NAS, who will serve as the study’s director, said NRC officials approached and commissioned the NAS in 2010 and requested an update of the study. While Crowley said the study completed in 1990 was state of the art at the time, he said hopes are that new advancements since then will allow for updated information. The area around NFS is to be included in this updated study.
The study will be divided into two phases, Crowley said, with the first phase consisting of a scoping to identify approaches for carrying out the cancer risk assessment. Phase two would be the actual assessment itself. Once the NAS has completed phase one, Crowley said it would be up to the NRC to determine how the NAS is to complete the second phase.
“What we’re looking at are methodological approaches for assessing two things,” Crowley said. “Number one is off-site radiation doses around these facilities. And the second thing is cancer epidemiology. So what we’re trying to determine is whether or not there’s a link between radiation that was released from these facilities and cancer risks.”
Crowley said the two things needed for the epidemiological study would be the records of effluent releases reported by the NRC by nuclear facilities and the records of cancer deaths and incidents maintained by states with nuclear facilities to be studied.
Dr. Ourania Kosti, who will serve as the program officer for the study, said there are several ways to carry out such a study, such as a county-to-county comparison of cancer rates in counties without nuclear facilities against those with, interviews with those affected and following people living near and away from nuclear facilities and studying the impact over time.
Crowley said the indepdent NAS studies are completed by committees made up of people experienced in the field being studied and those with specialized skills. He said the NAS is aiming to have the final report of the study released by Dec. 31, at which time it would be posted on the agency’s website. He said the public comments period on the phase one report would run from January to February.
While Crowley said the NAS is preparing to collect data for the study, he said the NAS has not yet visited any of the facilities to be included in the study.
At the presentation’s end, Greene County resident Park Overall asked if the NAS would be open to accepting information on NFS from the public.
“You all are not from around here, so I want you to know what you’re stepping into,” she said, adding that she feels NFS has operated “out of control” for more than 50 years.
Crowley said the NAS would be agreeable to this and has already received information and documentation from the Erwin Citizens Awareness Network, a group of area citizens that has maintained information on NFS operations.
Linda Modica of the Sierra Club voiced concern that the NAS could run into difficulty in collecting cancer data from the state sufficient to complete the study.
She said was the case during a previous study carried out by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Others in attendance took issue with the format of the meeting. At the conclusion of Crowley and Kosti’s presentation, the NRC allowed members of the audience to ask questions of the presenters. However, some were not allowed to ask questions in the auditorium to allow time for other presenters to give their presentations. Crowley and Kosti, however, were made available for questions in the school’s lobby for those who did not get a chance to ask questions immediately following the presentation.
Greene County resident Trudy Wallack voiced concern that this format would prevent the public from hearing questions and concerns raised by those in attendance.
“We don’t think meeting one-on-one will serve the public entirely,” Wallack said.
“We’re all here and you’re letting five people ask questions,” another person in attendance said.
Tony Gody encouraged attendees to fill out feedback forms provided prior to the start of the meeting and said a change of format for future NRC meetings is likely.