Studsvik Inc., which employs 82 people and processes radioactive waste at 151 T.C. Runnion Road, is seeking a permit from the Tennessee Division of Air Pollution Control. Company President Mike Hill said in a statement that the incinerator would treat items such as laboratory smocks and gloves "that are slightly contaminated with low-level radioactivity."
The project will cost the company more than $2 million.
In its application to the state, Studsvik said the "small" incinerator would process waste consisting of things such as papers, plastic, wood, animal carcasses and lubrication oil.
"This process will greatly reduce the amount of contaminated waste materials that Studsvik currently ships for long-term disposal," Hill said. "Studsvik will also offer the treatment process to its customers. None of the materials processed at the Studsvik facility in Erwin are disposed of within the state of Tennessee."
A 30-day comment period expired Jan. 12, and the state is drafting a permit, said Vera T. Davis, environmental field office manager for the state Department of Environment and Conservation in Johnson City. She said the state is reviewing the public's comments and will submit the draft to the Johnson City office for review in two or three weeks.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch is not necessarily opposed to Studsvik's plan but said he thinks the state should hold an informational meeting. Studsvik would not do anything that would put its employees at risk, so the community can assume the project will be safe, he said. But Lynch said Studsvik should explain the details.
"This is pretty important," he said. "Everybody knows what an incinerator does. It burns up stuff, and everybody knows that an incinerator puts out a byproduct, which would be smoke or vapors containing stuff. As far as the best interests of the people of Unicoi County, we need to find out exactly what's going on with this."
Lynch said he has talked to two people in the nuclear industry about the incinerator and said one of them was "moderately concerned." But another person with whom he talked said if the incinerator is not run correctly, it might release more than the legal amount of contaminants.
Hill said the community should not be concerned.
"The control system for the incinerator virtually eliminates pollution of any type so that we are confident that the new system will have no negative impact on our employees, the public or the environment," he said. "Proven evaluation of the unit shows that air emissions will be half of 1 percent of federal and state limits."
According to the application, exhaust gases will be controlled by a "high efficiency" wet scrubber and acid gas neutralizer. Water used in the scrubber will be evaporated.
Studsvik said it would seek an amendment to its radioactive materials license at the same time as this application "or seek a new license for this system."