Contamination complicated by area geology

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   NFS, a nuclear fuel fabrication and uranium recovery facility, has operated since the late 1950s on a 64-acre site in Erwin. In 1987 it was contracted to decommission plutonium fuel fabricating facilities in two separate buildings onsite.
   Since 1988, three inactive, enriched uranium/thorium production facilities have been decommissioned. NFS also has cleaned up a mixed waste impoundment which included sediment containing highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and remediated a burial ground which had been used from the mid-'60s to 1975. The burial trenches were evaluated, filled with approximately 20,000 cubic yards of clean dirt, compacted and identified with permanent markers, then reseeded and erosion control measures begun.
   Erwin Utilities, which supplies water to the town, uses a combination of wells and springs for its water supply, with its nearest intake, the "Railroad Well" about 1/2 mile north of the northern boundary of NFS. Banner Spring Branch, a small spring-fed stream located entirely inside the complex, flows west and also north into Martin Creek, which eventually finds its way to the Nolichucky River.
   The town of Jonesborough uses the Nolichucky for its source of drinking water and recently purchased a 17-acre tract of land off Arnold Road, about 3/4-mile closer to NFS, where it plans to install a new intake in a deeper pool of the river and eventually to build a water treatment plant, according to Bob Browning, town administrator.
   "We'll be pulling a much larger volume," he said. Jonesborough will double the size of its intake from a 12-inch line to a 24-inch.
   "The Nolichucky is a good source of water, but it has a tremendous amount of sand and turbidity," Browning said. By changing the intake structure, the town is hoping to avoid having large piles of sand dumped on its intake, as is now happening.
   "The river doesn't have a tremendous amount of deep spots," he said.
   Six public groundwater wells are located within five miles of the NFS complex.
   Leo Romanowski of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said geologic formations underlying the area include surface clays and silts approximately 5 feet deep followed by a layer of sand about 2 to 5 feet deep.