There’s a glow in the Smokies tonight: Nuclear waste and WNC **UPDATED**

Area music producer Steven Heller was part of a local campaign to keep nuclear waste from landing in WNC back in the 1980s. The campaign, which resulted in Madison County commissioners adopting a resolution against nuclear waste transit on county roadways, featured a photo of Heller wearing a HAZMAT suit and seated on a tractor, as if he were plowing a field of contaminated soil. The catch-phrase was “Don’t think it can’t happen here.”

Heller also produced a piece of music to support the campaign, written by John Lilly, entitled “There’s a Glow in the Smokies Tonight.”

“Have you been up to Beaverdam Gap over Big Sandy Mush? It’s the most gorgeous place in the world,” Heller tells Xpress. When asked about the U.S. Department of Energy proposal to site a nuclear-waste repository there, he says: “It’s like, ‘let’s find the prettiest place in the world and destroy it.’ It’s when you take your eye off the ball, that’s when they do it.” Heller adds, “The moon would be a good place” for a high-level waste repository.

He still follows the issue, as his children want to move back to this area. “The fact of how much [nuclear waste] gets driven through here now — it’s just ridiculous,” he says, noting the threat of a mishap in transit. “Goin’ down I-40 — it’s hard enough in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.”

Look for a full report on nuclear-waste facts, fiction and fears in the July 13 Mountain Xpress.

Currently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering the prospect of drafting new regulations to license reprocessing (or “recycling”) of civilian radioactive waste in the U.S. – something that has not happened here since the early 1970’s. Community leaders around the Savannah River Nuclear Reservation in South Carolina have indicated their interest in that site being developed as a nuclear waste reprocessing facility.

The NRC has conducted focus group meetings and is providing an opportunity for the public to comment on whether and how the agency should write new regulations for a U.S. reprocessing site, especially in view of strong foreign interest in an American site for these activities. Area activists note that a new reprocessing facility would:

-Accept and store highly radioactive “spent” nuclear fuel
-Use one of several technologies to separate plutonium, while generating new waste streams
-Deal with those waste streams—although no repository exists in the U.S.
-Process the separated plutonium into plutonium fuel, or “MOX fuel”
-Ship the fuel product out.

Want to review and make comments on the proposal? Link to the Federal Register Notice here; you can email your comments to

The music “There’s a Glow in the Smokies Tonight” was produced and contributed by Steven Heller, and written and performed by John Lilly, with:
Phil Johnson: Background Vocals, and Dobro
Gaye Johnson: Background vocals
Clinton Gregory: Fiddle
Hillary Dirlam: Bass

c.1986 Tree Publishing Co., Butterside Music BMI.

Photo by Danny Riser.


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4 thoughts on “There’s a glow in the Smokies tonight: Nuclear waste and WNC **UPDATED**

  1. No Nukes

    You can join your fellow Ashevillians in opposing nuclear waste in WNC, Friday July 15 at Pritchard Park @ 4:00 pm for a brief rally and then a march to the Federal Building. Join us to say no nukes in NC!

    • bridget

      Yeah, I’ve been told a couple of times now by ex-navy submarine personnel that they had to be “de-briefed” before leaving.

      Subs have radioactive systems and cooled by a water circulation system, by design, and when the sub comes in to port, that water being circulated with all the radioactivity is pulled along-side a huge ship, where the water is drained into the hold of that tanker. When the tanker is to capacity from the subs, it is taken 200 miles off shore and dumped into the ocean. I long-lined out of the Gulf of Mexico, and when about 200-250 miles out, we pulled up a 55-gallon drum. The knuckle-heads on the ship insisted on “bringing it back to the pier” with us. It was opened on the pier, and the contents were day-glow orange. The government officials overseeing that said “It’s fermented applesauce”………right… applesauce always glows like that!!! No wonder we’re all beyond the tipping point of restoring life here. And, now that I’ve learned how honeybees detect nectar by electrical impulses sensed from the flowers, well, heck…….don’t you think that all the electrical lines screw that up? Much like the missile testing done in the ocean in the ears of our ocean mammals? I’m SO sick of people…..and ashamed. Thanks for listening.


  2. Olivia Steinke (age 9)

    Let’s just say no to nuclear energy. The waste is just too yecchh…!

  3. Isabel Steinke

    I’m only nine, but according to my mom, (and my opinion) nuclear
    waste and things that contribute to Global Warming are pretty BAD!

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