Environmentalists spoke out Thursday against sending highly radioactive waste from commercial power plants to the Savannah River Site near Aiken for storage.
The federal government has been trying to decide what to do with spent fuel created by the nation’s 104 atomic energy plants since President Barack Obama chose in 2009 to abandon the Yucca Mountain, Nev., disposal site.
One option is temporarily storing the toxic refuse at federal sites such as SRS, a sprawling nuclear weapons complex with limited public access, until a replacement to Yucca Mountain opens.
But environmentalists say interim disposal could too easily become permanent. At the very least, it could take decades before a replacement facility would open, they say. Planning for Yucca Mountain dates to the mid-80s. More than $10 billion was spent on the project, much of the money coming from utilities that would send radioactive spent fuel there. Utilities, which relied on ratepayers’ money, now want to be reimbursed.
At Thursday’s Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council meeting in Columbia, representatives of four conservation groups said South Carolina should resist any federal plan to use SRS for disposal, even if the plan is considered interim.
“For too long, South Carolina has shouldered a disproportionate share of our country’s nuclear waste,” said Debbie Parker, a representative of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “We cannot endorse any negotiations that imply consent ... for SRS to serve as an interim site for consolidation of commercial nuclear waste storage or for reprocessing.”
Representatives from the state Sierra Club, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability also spoke out.
The alliance’s Tom Clements said behind-the-scenes discussions now are occurring among state leaders to allow the disposal in exchange for some type of jobs initiative. He did not name anyone, but said “it’s time for those in on these discussions to reveal what they are up to” and tell the public.
The advisory council did not take any action Thursday. The council, as its name says, provides advice to the governor on nuclear matters.
A spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley said the final resting place for spent fuel should be Yucca Mountain. Republicans have been trying to reverse Obama’s decision and open Yucca Mountain. The president canceled the Yucca Mountain project after years of complaints from Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, who said dumping waste in his state would hurt the environment.
Haley is “dedicated to keeping South Carolina from becoming a permanent home for this nation’s unprocessed nuclear waste,” spokesman Rob Godfrey said in an email to The State newspaper. “The solution to the waste problem we face is a mountain in Nevada. The experts at the Savannah River site can process and stabilize this waste, but its final home should be Yucca Mountain.”
Environmentalists said storing spent nuclear fuel could increase the cry for a reprocessing plant. Reprocessing is supposed to render used fuel available for reuse in commercial plants, but conservationists say it creates more waste and threatens the landscape.
“Our country stands at a nuclear waste crossroads,” the conservation league’s Ryan Black said. “The political failure to develop Yucca Mountain has only complicated this issue further. But Yucca’s demise should not dictate that South Carolina bear the burden, yet again, of our nation’s radioactive waste.”
Green groups say used nuclear fuel, while dangerous, can be safely kept in casks at existing power plants, rather than shipping it to an interim site while the debate over a permanent facility rages. Of the nation’s 104 reactors, South Carolina has seven at four places. SCE&G is building two more reactors at its Jenkinsville power plant.