Tenn. Awaits Tons Of German Nuclear Waste The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan for an American company to burn German nuclear waste in Oak Ridge. Though opponents worry about safety procedures, residents don't seem concerned.
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Tennessee Awaits Tons Of German Nuclear Waste

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Tennessee Awaits Tons Of German Nuclear Waste

Tennessee Awaits Tons Of German Nuclear Waste

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Opponents raise safety concerns about this plan and they also worry the United States will become the world's processor of radioactive waste, but very little of that opposition is actually coming from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. From member station WUOT in Knoxville, Matt Shafer Powell has this report.

MATT SHAFER POWELL: Unidentified Man: At Oak Ridge, Tennessee are two of the giant plants where the bomb is produced; a 59,000-acre military area, a city where 75,000 people worked in absolute secrecy on history's most sensational secret.

(SOUNDBITE OF A NEWSREEL)

SHAFER POWELL: In the years since that post-war newsreel was produced, Oak Ridge has become a world-renowned center for nuclear research. But operations here also generate a great deal of radioactive waste.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN ALARM AND HEAVY EQUIPMENT)

SHAFER POWELL: This where some of that waste ends up at EnergySolutions' Bear Creek incinerator plant in Oak Ridge. On an asphalt lot between fences topped with razor wire, trucks rumble in and out of the plant, leaving behind giant dumpster-sized boxes full of low-level nuclear waste.

GREG LAWSON: This is definitely typical. It's in and out all day long. I don't know the average number of shipments in and out, but there's a lot going on every day.

SHAFER POWELL: Director Susan Gawarecki says the committee hasn't decided yet whether it will oppose the plan. But she says the fact that it's foreign waste raises some questions.

SUSAN GAWARECKI: When you're starting to talk about managing the rest of the world's waste, the German waste looks like the beginning of what could be a large flood of material from other countries.

SHAFER POWELL: Don Safer of the Tennessee Environmental Council worries about the same thing. And after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, he's not ready to accept any of EnergySolutions' guarantees that the process is safe.

DON SAFER: There's a lot of controversy in burning regular garbage, let alone radioactive garbage.

SHAFER POWELL: What might be most baffling to Safer is the fact that Tennesseans don't seem too bothered by it, especially in Oak Ridge.

SAFER: I think first and foremost, Oak Ridge has been a company town for a long time and there's just a great reluctance to - and almost a social convention - that says you don't attack the company that feeds us all.

SHAFER POWELL: Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson prefers to look at it from a different perspective. He says there are a lot of scientists and workers living in Oak Ridge who deal with radiation every day. As a result, they have a pretty sophisticated familiarity with it.

MARK WATSON: There's a fear factor that may be missing from the folks that live here because we understand it a little bit better. And I think that we see some advantages for us as a community to be able to process that.

SHAFER POWELL: For NPR News, I'm Matt Shafer Powell in Knoxville.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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