Anderson County nuclear site gains $13.5 million from state, feds for cleanup
American Nuclear Corporation leaked radioactive chemicals for years before it closed in 1972
The remains of American Nuclear Corporation in Anderson County, Tenn. The company closed in 1972. (Photo: Submitted)
An East Tennessee site that has been contaminated for about 50 years with radioactive waste is set to be cleaned up with about $13.5 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation told Anderson County on October 9.
The American Nuclear Corporation site, located in Claxton, Tennessee, has been a source of concern for Anderson County Government for years. Local officials have reached out at various points since at least 2008 to the state, the EPA and their district’s congressmen for help on cleaning up the site, according to a compilation of county records distributed last year by then County Commissioner Catherine Denenberg to the county’s intergovernmental committee.
“I don’t know if we’re on camera, but in case we are, I am not going to dance but I am so darn excited about this!” County Mayor Terry Frank said after the announcement at the county’s intergovernmental meeting. “This is huge for Anderson County.”
In the 1960s, the American Nuclear Corporation “manufactured radiological sources for medical institutions,” a 2010 county application for the EPA’s National Brownfield Program grant said. The company had obtained source materials for their products from the Department of Energy. Isotopes that were handled included Cobalt-60 and Cesium-137, the application said.
“Poor housekeeping was a problem during the entire period that the plant was in operation, and is extensively documented in compliance letters by the Tennessee Department of Public Health — Division of Occupational and Radiological Health. ANC was repeatedly cited for violations involving radioactive material,” the application said.
In 1969, routine sampling at Melton Hill Dam, which is downstream from the ANC property, found Cobalt-60, which was eventually traced back to radioactive waste on the property, the application said.
The company eventually shut down and around 1972 the property was abandoned. The State took it over and initial clean up was done to protect the public but the remediation was not completed, the application said. The state continued to monitor the site but the property continued to be a source of concern for the county.
“Hazardous conditions at the ANC site have been reduced over time, but the site remains a security concern, an eyesore, and is unsuitable for productive reuse,” the 2010 application said, mentioning cases where cars have crashed into the gate to the site, teenagers getting too curious and the fact that the property neighbors over 200 acres of county owned land.
About 13 years later, county officials still echo concerns about the site and the desire to see it cleaned up. The county’s intergovernmental committee took up the issue once again in the last couple of years, according to meeting minutes and agendas. This time around, the response was different.
“A big reason why we’re seeing some push on this [is] one, we understand the county has some interest in the property,” said Steve Sanders, director of TDEC’s division of remediation on October 9. “Two, Governor (Bill) Lee put forth a conservation initiative that was funded by the legislature a couple of years ago to address a number of brownfield properties across the state that had really just been sort of sitting, languishing without funding, without a path forward. American Nuclear is one of those properties.”
TDEC looked at the site and referred it to EPA’s region four superfund program on July 15, 2022, an EPA spokesperson said. The two agencies began evaluating the site including collecting samples. Concerns currently at the site include “radiological contamination of structural materials and soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater contamination,” the EPA spokesperson said.
“It’s a site that the state likely doesn’t have the resources, expertise, capacity to handle and so each of the [EPA] regions across the country has funding for that. And so that’s how this is being funded,” Sanders said.
The on-site cleanup could begin as early as this December, the EPA spokesperson said
“So they are in the process of finalizing an access agreement with the state for their contractors. They are going through the bid process to select the contractor that will be doing the work,” Sanders said. “That contractor will have to basically determine where that waste is going to go when it leaves the site. It is very likely at this point that it’s going to leave the state and go to one of the radioactive landfills in the West.”
Sanders said the cleanup is designated as an emergency action removal which by law means the work has to start within six months and is estimated to be finished within 18 months of starting. At this time, it is uncertain whether the land will go back to the county after the cleanup is completed but Sanders said he understands that the site will be cleaned up to “an unlimited reuse status.”
“I thank TDEC for your leadership and environmental stewardship of the property,” Commissioner Tracy Wandell, representative of Claxton, said. “TDEC has done their job, they have monitored…and it’s encouraging to see the federal government get involved and help out with this clean up and I’m happy to hear that obviously that doesn’t take away from the state dollars which are needed [for] other things.”
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