South Carolina has been generally accommodating to the federal government’s nuclear waste disposal needs over the decades, based on the promise that the highly radioactive material would be eventually shipped out of Savannah River Site to a permanent storage facility. Unfortunately, the federal government hasn’t been willing to live up to its part of the bargain.
So the SRS Citizens Advisory Board recently said “enough is enough” in response to federal plans to ship a ton of uranium from Germany through the port of Charleston then by rail to the Aiken facility. While the board’s role is advisory, its decision can have a major impact on federal policy.
The uranium was originally sent to Germany for research purposes as part of the U.S. Atoms for Peace Program — and the U.S. government agreed to take it back when Germany was finished with it. No question, SRS has the experience and the capability to process the material so it can’t be used to produce a nuclear weapon, but CAB reasonably balked at the transfer.
“The proposal will unnecessarily add to an already large burden of … high-level radioactive waste storage at SRS with no established path for disposal,” the CAB stated in its response to the Department of Energy request. “DOE failures to faithfully keep pace with its SRS cleanup commitments impede the acceptability of this deficient proposal by the citizens of South Carolina.”
Meanwhile, the planned permanent storage site for high level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was shut down in 2011 by the then-chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with the Obama administration’s approval. There are ongoing efforts to restart the project on which $15 billion has already been spent since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, South Carolina, Aiken County and Washington state have ongoing lawsuits against the DOE for failing to meet its promises on nuclear waste. The state also is attempting to get payment of $200 million in fines that the federal government agreed to remit if it failed to send a specified volume of nuclear waste out of the state by 2016. It reneged on that promise, too.
South Carolina should emphasize its opposition to becoming the dump site for federal nuclear waste at every possible turn — in the courts, in Congress and by state government. The state has assumed more than its share of responsibility for nuclear defense production and waste management since the early years of the Cold War. The federal government should have to live up to its promises to the state.
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