published Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Nuclear neighborhood: Residents in towers’ shadow feel untouched by Japan crisis

Houses in the Hunter Trace subdivision in north Hamilton County are within a few hundred yards of the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant near Soddy-Daisy. Neighbors to the nuclear plant say they don't mind living close to the TVA plant.
Staff Photo by Dave Flessner
Houses in the Hunter Trace subdivision in north Hamilton County are within a few hundred yards of the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant near Soddy-Daisy. Neighbors to the nuclear plant say they don't mind living close to the TVA plant. Staff Photo by Dave Flessner

Despite the radioactive fallout around one of Japan’s biggest nuclear power plants, Rodney Fuller has no fears about the nuclear plant only a few hundred yards from his North Hamilton County residence.

Dwellings crowd sites

Within 10 miles of TVA’s nuclear plants:

  • 56,962 homes and businesses near the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant in Soddy-Daisy

  • 44,792 homes and businesses around the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama

  • 17,319 homes and businesses around the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

As a licensed electrician, the 49-year-old former TVA employee says he knows first hand the many backup systems the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant has to protect the public.

“I don’t think we’re in any danger of a tsunami coming this far inland like what happened in Japan,” Fuller said while washing his car this week at his 12-year-old house in the Hunter Trace subdivision.

Fuller owns one of the nearly 75,000 homes and businesses within the 10-mile emergency management zone around TVA’s two nuclear plants in Southeast Tennessee.

The crippling of the Fukishimi nuclear plant in Japan has heightened public concerns over nuclear power and created a demand for anti-radiation potassium iodine, or KI, tablets in many parts of the globe.

But in the Tennessee Valley where American scientists first worked to harness the power of the atom more than a half century ago, neighbors to the reactors seem less concerned.

“Since the tsunami in Japan, a total of about 10 people have requested KI from the county health departments in our Southeast Region,” said Shelley Walker, marketing coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Health.

Jeremy Heidt, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said fewer than 200 of the households around TVA’s Sequoyah and Watts Bar plants in Tennessee have requested the KI tablets over the past couple of years.

On request, the state provides the tablets that help limit how much radiation is absorbed in the thyroid.

“This is a safer neighborhood than most areas and I really don’t think much about the plant, other than it provides a great walking area for me,” said Blanche DeVries, who moved near Sequoyah three years ago.

But nuclear power critics contend that the quake-damaged nuclear plant in Japan should serve as a warning to those who live around reactors.

“What we’re seeing in Japan shows that the impacts from a nuclear plant accident can be very severe and felt a long ways beyond the 10-mile zone,” said Edwin Lyman, senior scientist for Union of Concerned Scientists. “I would be surprised if this is not a wake-up call to folks who live around the plant because the radiation levels for those living around that plant are very high in some circumstances. Even if the residents don’t face up to that, the insurance companies will.”

Sandy Kurtz, an anti-nuclear activist who lives in Hixson less than 20 miles from Sequoyah, said Fukishimi shows that the improbable can happen.

“Despite all the insistence that there is no danger, we have to believe that an accident could happen here and we need to be better prepared to handle such a disaster,” she said.

Heidt said that state and local emergency responders conduct annual drills on how to respond to a host of potential problems in and around a nuclear plant, including natural disasters, terrorist attacks and a confluence of weather and accidents.

“We have drills and graded exercises every year to make sure we are ready,” he said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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