Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) has been the main employer in the rural valley town of Erwin, Tennessee for decades. On the edge of the Appalachian Trail, the facility sits on the Nolichucky River. Initially, NFS brought much needed jobs to the area, hiring those with little education at pay rates far exceeding any of the factory jobs in the area. For 54 years the neighborhood factory has accepted weapons grade plutonium and uranium from around the world to create fissionable nuclear fuel for our Navy’s fleet of submarines and aircraft carriers.
When tests of the water in the area showed rampant contamination, Michael Abbott Jr., an East Tennessee native, and his best friend Cosmo Pfeil decided to investigate how this pollution could be allowed to happen. They ended up embarking on an exploration of what the word “community” means to citizens of an Appalachian town dealing with the devastating effects of 54 years of nuclear contamination. Through interviews with former employees (some who were there as long as 30 years) now dealing with serious health issues, neighbors of the facility who watch white smoke billow from the stacks in the early hours of the morning and blow towards their homes, it became clear that there was a problem and that people in this town were sick and dying.