Anderson’s undeserved disaster

County still waiting for cleanup of American Nuclear site

It’s a superfund site, a blight, an eyesore, a fly in the ointment, it’s a “disaster,” it’s the property, “that always has the fence torn down because someone runs the stop sign,” and it’s out of the hands of the Anderson County Commission.

The American Nuclear site, at the junction of Blockhouse Valley Road and Old Emory Road, has been state property since 1980. It also sits next to the former Blockhouse Valley Landfill — a 290-acre tract that Anderson County designated as a nature preserve and outdoor learning center in 2008, after the old landfill had been cleaned up.

During the Monday night Anderson County Commission meeting, county Law Director Jay Yeager gave an update on the Blockhouse Valley Nature Preserve when the subject of American Nuclear came roaring to the forefront of the discussion.

Yeager said the county is “Starting our transition to bringing this (the nature preserve) back to the citizens’ hands … to allow some citizens activity.”

“Maybe start some walking paths … (the county has) an opportunity to rent a trail dozer from the forestry service.

“One big problem standing in our way and that’s American Nuclear … the eyesore at the corner of Blockhouse Valley and Old Emery roads.”

American Nuclear used radioactive isotopes Cobalt-60 and Cesium-137 to make items for X-ray heads and other medical products.

The firm was launched in the early 1960s by the late Jim Wilder, father-in-law of banker Jake Butcher, and went bust less than a decade later.

Yeager said it’s time the county started “pushing hard” to have the site removed.

“The state has just taken possession of that and just left it there since the mid-70s. It needs to be removed,” he said. “We’re hoping some of the money coming down from Washington can be used to remove this structure.”

Yeager said the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation holds the deed to the site.

“It needs to go; it’s time to push heavy for this facility to be razed and removed and taken to a proper disposal site,” Yeager said. “The deed is under TDEC control.”

District 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell had much to say about this particular problem — especially so because District 1 is also looking at coal ash waste from the closing of TVA’s Bull Run steam plant.

“I find it ironic, here we are … in this area, and the county, we’ve got a lot of discussion and concern with our coal ash, but I sit and wonder how is that we have a known waste — carcinogenic — that is a problem and it continues to sit there and is just fenced in,” Wandell said.

“It seems like we put a lot more effort into the potential of coal ash, which it deserves, but we seem to just kinda let the nuclear waste that was deposited is this area sit, and sit, and sit, and sit,” he said.

“And I’m interested in trying to understand who needs to be pushing this issue. I don’t know if it’s the mayor, our state representative. … I’d like to see some movement on it. I especially don’t want to see walking trails and everything put around it with that still there,” he said.

“For me, the number one issue is to get that out of there as quickly as possible,” Wandell said.

“I know it is for you, too, and the mayor. I think we need to figure out how we’re going to pick that back up and start pushing that ball. You know it came from DOE and I think DOE needs to get involved in getting it cleaned up.”

Yeager agreed, but noted, “It’s not Anderson County that’s’ dragging their heels on this issue. We’ve tried and tried and tried for years. There have been discussions with DOE who took the waste to dispose at its facility at a savings cost of about $4 million.”

Yeager said the cleanup of the site would still cost about $4.4 million — and that was an estimate from 2011 or 2012, so it could be more.

“It’s wrapped up in governmental bureaucracy,” he said. “We’re pushing as hard as we can. We’ve written letters to the General Assembly, written letters to TDEC, the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., and nobody seems to want to do anything about it.

“The state is the one that took possession of this property,” Yeager said. “It’s in their name. They need to front the bill, not Anderson County citizens. It wasn’t our fault to begin with … now we’re stuck with this disaster.”

District 6 Commissioner Catherine Denenberg questioned why the matter hadn’t come before the commission’s intergovernmental commission.

A motion was made and passed unanimously to do so.

“I do appreciate that,” Yeager said.