Editor’s Note: With the inevitability of peak oil, many have welcomed nuclear as an alternate source of energy. Countless “accidents” over the past few decades (Chernobyl and Fukushima being the most prominent) have warned us of the risks associated with nuclear. Not only that, business as usual (without “accidents”) for nuclear does not bode well for public health either. The following is a press release by Radiation and Public Health Project. It highlights the key points of recent health research near NFS nuclear plant in Unicoi County, Tennessee. The press release is followed by a Deep Green Book Club discussion on a film about nuclear waste.

Contact Person

Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA, Executive Director
716 Simpson Avenue, Ocean City NJ 08226


Since the 1990s, Unicoi County death rates for cancers and other causes increased dramatically, according to a new report released today.

Prior to the late 1990s, Unicoi County death rates were about equal to the U.S. But by the most recent period available (2019-2020), the county rate exceeded the national rate by the largest proportion in the past half-century, specifically:

  • 44% higher for all-cause mortality
  • 61% higher for premature mortality (age 0-74)
  • 39% higher for all-cancer mortality

The report states that the release of radioactive chemicals into the environment by the Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) plant may play a large role in the local health decline. “No other risk factor, such as access to health care, personal health practices, or poverty appears to have changed much,” says report author Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project.

“As an Erwin native, I am happy to join with Trudy Wallack and Linda Modica as a contributor to important information regarding the health of the people in my hometown and the surrounding areas” says Barbara O’Neal, co-founder of Erwin Citizens Awareness Network (ECAN), which commissioned the study.

The NFS plant is situated in Erwin, in Unicoi County. Since its 1959 startup, the plant has generated enriched uranium fuels for naval reactors and nuclear power plants. NFS releases a portion of this uranium and other radioactive elements into local air and water.

Prior to this report, no in-depth attempt has been made to analyze health status near NFS. The only national study of cancer near U.S. nuclear plants was conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 1990; that study did not include NFS.

The report also identified a growing county-national gap in death rates for infants and children. In the most recent period analyzed, the death rate for Unicoi County children exceeded the national rate by nearly 40%.

ECAN co-founder Trudy Wallack, believes that “as a resident of Greeneville, the protection and safety of the Nolichucky River stands paramount to my community & others. This river serves as the key source for our drinking water as well as family recreation and water sports. It is my hope that my contribution to this study will provide critical information regarding health…to all those who care and are asking questions.”

Photo by Frédéric Paulussen on Unsplash