Erwin Citizens Awareness Network, Inc. (ECAN), long-time watchdog of Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. (NFS) and of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has filed an administrative lawsuit [posted below, along with an expert witness declaration by Michael E. Ketterer, PhD] with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission questioning the legitimacy of and need for NFS to purify uranium for thermonuclear weapons at its facility in Erwin, Tennessee.
Four major contentions comprise ECAN’s petition. They include a demand to rigorously investigate ongoing chemical and radioactive poisoning of underground and surface water; an insistence on a quality assurance program; an exposure of NFS’ deficient Environmental Report which fails to address the cumulative impacts on the environment of this 65-year-old plant; and a challenge to the legality of making new weapons material at a private company when U.S. and international law prohibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
ECAN members have read and analyzed hundreds of pages of unclassified documents regarding this proposed process and have learned from NFS’ own Environmental Report that there are eight (8) accident scenarios associated with this new process. They are: Anhydrous Hydrogen Fluoride and Anhydrous Ammonia Release – two new chemicals used in the process — Nuclear Criticality (nuclear chain reaction), UF6 Release, Uranium Solution Release, natural phenomena and security emergencies.
Buzz Davies, a retired nuclear quality control engineer who is an ECAN member, said “it’s one thing to work with 20% high-enriched uranium for fuel, but yet another to process 96% uranium for weapons.” Nuclear engineer Davies explained that “there’s a reason the Department of Energy requires the prime contractors at Oak Ridge to maintain a strict Quality Assurance program. These are highly-hazardous processes. When you’re working with 96% U-235, the risk of a criticality accident increases. And if you don’t have management, engineers and process operators all focused on ensuring product quality as well as safety and security for workers and the public, risks are increased. What do you get at a private company? Is it production and profit
over safety and security? Frankly, I don’t know what DOE is thinking letting bomb materials loose at a private company and giving NFS a contract to operate the Ames Process so close to homes, schools, churches, nursing and medical facilities.”
ECAN president Linda Cataldo Modica expressed concern that “we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth”. She continued saying that “these are persistent poisons — forever chemicals — radioactive toxins with half-lives of tens of thousands of years. When the Public Heath Assessment found that NFS was an ‘Indeterminant Public Health Hazard’ based on what the agency called ‘past conditions’, I have to ask: how do current conditions differ from those of the past when uranium,
plutonium, thorium and other chemical toxins are still with us? Have they degraded, decayed or transformed to benign substances? No.”
“There’s a reason why the highly-hazardous uranium purification process is done within the 811 acres of Y-12 which is itself isolated within 37,000 acres. It makes no sense from a public-safety and national security standpoint to allow NFS to experiment with this new process on its puny 82-acre site. Are we going to become a target for attack or for theft of nuclear weapons materials? Knowing the security-related violation history of NFS gives ECAN ample justification for concern for the people of my home town” said Barbara O’Neal.
“In its own Environmental Report, NFS’s answer to the 57.5-million-dollar question of need is missing” said ECAN attorney, Terry Lodge. “NFS has failed to demonstrate the need for the license amendment it seeks. Instead, by replying to an NRC Request for Additional Information that it will take 27 months to construct the proposed uranium purification process – that is, by September 2024 at the soonest — it is possible that Y-12 will have its new electrorefining process operational before NFS even gets start-up approval from the NRC. Besides, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reported to Congress in March of this year that it will still fund uranium purification capacity at Building 9212 ‘until the electrorefining process is fully operational’ and has repeatedly stated in the media that no jobs will be lost at Y-12. Therefore, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirement that the licensee demonstrate the need for a major federal action has not been met and NRC must deny NFS’ license amendment request.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Nuclear Fuel Services have until shortly after Thanksgiving
to respond to ECAN’s petition.
The NFS Environmental Report states that there will be no significant impact to the community. “We can unfortunately testify that the NRC has parroted similar NFS assertions before” said Barbara O’Neal.
“However, renowned chemist, Dr. Michael Ketterer, has demonstrated that NFS-sourced highly-enriched uranium has contaminated the Nolichucky River all the way to where it empties in Douglas Lake — the entire river downstream of NFS. What’s not significant about that? And according to the NFS Environmental Report, this new process will double the effluents in the air and water. How could a doubling of chemical and radioactive poisons poured into our air and water not be considered significant?” questioned Ms. O’Neal.
ECAN secretary, Trudy Wallack, added that “NFS’s failure to acknowledge in its Environmental Report that Greeneville, like Jonesborough, takes its municipal water supply from the Nolichucky is a serious oversight. Because we’re concerned that the NRC will again arbitrarily copy and paste NFS’ wrong assertions and repeat the capricious we-never-said-no-before performance it gave during the license renewal process, ECAN felt compelled to challenge NFS’ weapons project for the sake of all of our health, safety and security”.
“This deal appears to be $57.5 million in corporate welfare from money-flush DOE” Ms. Modica concluded. “There is scant proof of the need for this project and there’s zero indication that NFS’ monopoly on Navy fuel production is at risk. Yet someone at the NNSA dreamed up a project for its mini-DOE in Erwin to spread the nuclear enterprise’s obscene wealth around. This project is nothing more than pork. Putrid pork.”
See the administrative lawsuit cited above, immediately below. And below that, see ECAN’s expert witness declaration.
Expert witness declaration by Michael E. Ketterer, PhD: