BY KEN LITTLE
Lawyers representing 143 named plaintiffs in the recently dismissed civil lawsuit against Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) and its predecessors will meet soon and consider strategies for appealing the dismissal decision, Greeneville lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers said Monday.
"There's a mechanism to appeal, and the lawyers in New York and Rhode Island are planning to have a caucus here after the first of the year which I will be included in, and they will make a decision on what to do," Rogers said.
The lawsuit alleged that releases of hazardous and radioactive substances by NFS and other companies connected to the Erwin site resulted in personal injury and property damage.
The nuclear fuel processing plant in Unicoi County has been operated since 1957 by a succession of owners.
Of 11 claims made in the lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge J. Ronnie Greer dismissed 10 on the basis that state law is pre-empted by the federal Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act -- a federal law that defines and addresses the liability of all U.S. non-military nuclear facilities.
"The Act limited the civil liability of nuclear plant operators and provided federal funds to help pay damages caused by nuclear accidents," Greer's Dec. 21 ruling states.
The remaining claim was dismissed by Greer because plaintiffs failed to "prove a breach of the federal numerical dose limits," the judge wrote.
FILED IN JUNE 2011
The lawsuit was filed by Rogers, acting as local counsel, in June 2011.
Also involved in the case are two high-profile law firms with experience in environmental litigation: Motley Rice, of Charleston, S.C., and Napoli Bern Ripka LLP, of New York City.
At least one plaintiff and property owner living along the Nolichucky River, Greeneville environmental activist Park Overall, has voiced displeasure with the way the out-of-town law firms handled the case.
Rogers' role diminished as the case proceeded in court.
Rogers said Monday he still wants to protect the interests of plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but the decision on what legal course of action to take won't be his alone.
"They'll have to make up their mind what they're going to do in the next couple of weeks," he said.
"There will need to be an appeal to the Sixth Circuit, and that decision will be made by counsel from Napoli Bern Ripka and Motley Rice."
NFS: NO DANGER TO PUBLIC
The NFS facility, which supplies nuclear fuel to the U.S. Navy and processes weapons-grade uranium into nuclear reactor fuel, is located in Erwin, near the banks of the Nolichucky River. It is about 28 miles upstream from Greeneville.
NFS officials have maintained that the facility in Unicoi County poses no danger to the public.
In a statement released last week, NFS President Joe Henry said the company is "pleased" with Greer's ruling, but recognizes "that the plaintiffs could seek to appeal the court's decision."
Still, Henry said, "We consider this ruling to be an important decision for all defendants in the case."
A pilot study to determine cancer risk in the population surrounding the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin was approved in October by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The NRC action followed up a recommendation by a National Academy of Sciences committee to determine cancer risk in populations surrounding the NFS plant and also in populations surrounding six commercial U.S. nuclear power plants in other states.