Unicoi County

Located in the beautiful, mountainous section of upper east Tennessee, Unicoi County contains approximately 201 square miles. Forty-nine to 50 percent of the area of Unicoi County is US Government land. The county is bordered by the Tennessee counties of Washington, Carter and Greene and by the North Carolina counties of Madison, Yancey and Mitchell. The Nolichucky River is the main waterway in the county. The Nolichucky name originates where the North Toe River joins the Cane River below Huntdale, NC. The Nolichucky Gorge is a popular center for whitewater rafting.

The Clinchfield Railroad was the major employer of the county for a number of years. Then, in 1916, Southern Potteries located in Erwin. Southern Potteries specialized in hand painted dinnerware called Blue Ridge China. During construction of the plant, local people were given instruction in lining and hand painting. Most of the pottery workers came from 'up north', mainly from East Liverpool and Sebring, Ohio and Chester, West Virginia.

The Holston Corporation built modern homes, which were purchased by the pottery for their workers. The houses were built along Ohio Avenue and Unaka Way and were of three designs. Many people thought that Ohio Avenue was so named because of the Ohio people who lived there. Not so. The streets had been named earlier for the railroad. Parallel streets are Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio. Most of the houses are still standing. They have been remodeled, enlarged, and had their porches enclosed, etc. but can still be recognized as "Pottery houses".

At the peak of its activities during the 1940's, over 1000 people were employed at Southern Potteries. More than half the employees worked in the hand painted department, where most of the work was done by women.

After World War II, when imports began coming into the country, the pottery began to lose money. Operations were slowly curtailed until the closing in 1957. Today hand painted dinnerware from Southern Potteries is a collectors item.

Fortunately for the workers of Unicoi County, about the time Southern Potteries was phasing out, Davison Chemical Company located a plant in Erwin. The plant processed Uranium and thorium products. In 1964, the name was changed to Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. Today, Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. is privately owned. It is the major supplier of fuel for nuclear powered navy ships.

NRC orders enhanced security at nuclear fuel plants: Two uranium fuel plants in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Erwin, Tennessee, must immediately adopt stricter anti-terrorist measures such as more guards, vehicle barriers and patrols, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Aug. 22, 2002. The plants, owned by BWX Technologies Inc. and Nuclear Fuel Services, take enriched uranium and make it into fuel for nuclear reactors. The NRC said it ordered the two plants to adopt similar measures already put in place by U.S. nuclear power plants as a precaution after the Sept. 11 attacks. (Reuters Aug. 22, 2002)

NRC proposes imposition of $60,000 penalty on NFS for lack of accounting on Strategic Special Nuclear Material
On October 17, 2003, the NRC issued a Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition of Civil Penalty in the amount of $60,000 to Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc.: "[...] This problem represents a significant breakdown in the implementation of the licensee's material control and accounting (MC&A) system in that a substantial amount of Category 1A Strategic Special Nuclear Material (SSNM) went unaccounted for at the Erwin facility for a period of approximately 6 weeks beginning in June of 2001. The multiple failures in this case could have led to the undetected diversion of SSNM, and there would have been no record providing evidence that it was missing. [...]" (NRC, EN 03-045, October 14, 2003)

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