Wallack concerned NFS project would have harmful impact

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   When Carter County native Trudy Wallack and her husband, David, of Greeneville returned from vacation in early August, they picked up the local newspaper and for the first time read about Nuclear Fuel Service Inc.'s plans to down-blend bomb grade uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors.
   "This has kept me awake almost as much as 9-11," she said. "I think I can honesty say that as a resident that resides on the Nolichucky River, I'm hugely concerned for myself and my family and my community."
   The Wallacks' concerns led them to respond to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission notice published July 9 in the Federal Register which asked for public comments.
   "I'm telling you, I was so upset. I sat down and I would have handwritten it. We simply did it through letters. We didn't go through counsel," she said.
   The Wallacks did not have access to the July 1996 Environmental Impact Statement which outlined potential discharges of chemical and radiological contamination to the environment at the time they wrote the NRC, nor did they have the Environmental Assessment prepared by the NRC based on information supplied by NFS. Yet that didn't stop them from expressing their views and asking the NRC to hold a public hearing on the matter.
   "One of our concerns was terrorists. Does that not create an even larger attraction to terrorists?" Wallack asked. Also, she said, "I'd love to know what happens up there at NFS if a person gets hurt. How long would it take us to learn that there has been a spill?
   "I'm worried, obviously, about the contaminants that are going to end up in our river. I coexist with an abundance of wildlife out here, from seeing the turtle eggs hatch on the beach -- we've got a little natural sandy beach -- to watching the geese come in here every morning. I watch the deer eat my freshly sown clover. I watch the deer swim across that river, drink from that river. I watch my 85-year-old father sit down on the beach and fish, catch something and put it back, because that's what we do.
   "I watch my grandchildren, my extended family -- my great-nephews, my great-nieces -- swim in that river, that of which from this point in time has ceased because I'm really alarmed."
   Wallack said she would like thorough information on what kind of contaminants already exist in the Nolichucky. "I've got to know these things before I can risk their well-being and their health."
   NFS attorneys, in response to the Wallacks' petitions, told the NRC: "The Wallacks' hearing requests must be denied because the Wallacks have neither established standing nor identified areas of concern, as required by NRC regulations.
   "Indeed, the Wallack letters are little more than vague questions prompted by a newspaper article. The Wallacks do not appear to have read the license amendment application and relevant environmental documentation that are the subject of this proceeding," NFS said.
   Wallack said she found the NFS response insulting. "We were, like, kicked between the legs. I'm not dumb. There are areas that I lack information in, and I'm learning an awful lot. But I'm trying my best to do my homework here and make a difference," she said.
   Since the NFS response, the Wallacks have hired Washington attorney Diane Curran to represent them.
   "We're serious," she said. "Certainly, David and I have absolutely no intention at this point in time -- and I can't foresee in the future -- of simply stepping aside or feeling powerless just because the counsel for the NFS has advised the NRC that we don't have a standing. They're doing their job; that's the bottom line. And we have to do our job.
   "I want to tap in to the people along the river. I want them to see that you don't have to have 100 percent knowledge of what is going on, but you can be part of this by caring and becoming informed. People, we've got concerns here, and they're very real," she said.
   "David, in his letter, one of his major concerns was about a catastrophic spill on the interstate due to the amount that they would be trucking in and out. Why can't they just go out and do it in nonpopulated areas? NFS is located in a 100-year floodplain. What happens if they have a flood up there? The questions and the concerns don't end."
   Wallack said she is concerned about local farmers, the crops they raise and sell, and their livestock that drink from the Nolichucky. "We have friends that pump water from the Nolichucky River. They have holding ponds. They don't want their cows going into the river; they want to keep it clean."
   Some of those people haven't joined the Computer Age, she said. They don't have computer access to the NRC's public document room and perhaps can't afford to send to Washington for copies of documents that cost 15 cents per page.
   "What about these farmers that get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to go do their farm work? They work all day. And by the time the evening news comes on, they're so darned tired and, oftentimes, it's so darned confusing that they don't have a clue.
   "Who is reaching out to these people to say, 'Look, this farm that's maybe been in your family for hundreds of years is in jeopardy along with your own health and the health of your children, their children, and their children.' "
   Wallack also expressed concern about contamination being passed through the food chain. "Look over there in Erwin at how they water those strawberries. Where do you think they irrigate that water from? Look at where those strawberries go. They're growing those strawberries to sell. Look at the farmers who have property that border the Nolichucky River. What if they are irrigating their crops with the water and within that water are contaminants?
   "The ripple effect of this, it's good for one thing: It's interesting material for a good movie. Short of that, damned if I can say, 'Go ahead and poison us all.'
   "I look at the future of not just my grandchildren, but the thousands of children that drink this water and breathe this air. I look at these children, and it's the innocence of these children that we have to protect."
   Wallack said she recently attended a meeting of Unicoi residents concerned with the direction business leaders might take to shore up a sagging economy.
   One of the speakers quoted a passage from an Indian chief she found particularly intriguing: "All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."
   Wallack said, "Sometimes, quite frankly, it's easier to deal with what we don't know. But I can't do that, I just cannot do that because I already know too much.
   "I would like to think that, at least in our country, we could be free to walk out and breathe the air and swim in our river with some peace of mind. But I guess that's a perfect world and we don't live in a perfect world," she said.