Clements Calls Attention To Dangers Of Mini-Reactors

Today’s The State quotes 2010 US Senate candidate Tom Clements on the dangers of a new nuclear “mini-reactor” applications in SC. Clements is Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth and a nuclear policy expert and is frequently consulted by the local press on energy issues.

A press release from Clements’ office at Friends of the Earth, illuminates the fact that the reactors are being built as experimental prototypes in order to avoid proper licensing.

The revelation that two prototype “small modular reactors” are being pursued by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the private contractor that manages the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina, “in advance of any design certification and licensing by the NRC” has drawn the charge from Friends of the Earth that such a move does not comply with pertinent U.S. regulations and must be dropped.

“We call on Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and the Department of Energy to immediately affirm that no experimental nuclear reactors will be pursued in South Carolina without the required license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth. “Construction of ‘small modular reactors’ that are not licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would violate U.S. law as well as endanger the public and we will strongly oppose any attempt to avoid required licensing of such reactors.”

Small modular reactors are being pursued by various companies but at present only exist as concepts. Although such reactors would be smaller than those currently operating, modular reactors would still produce nuclear waste and pose the same safety and proliferation problems of larger reactors. Licensing discussions between at least one firm and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have begun.

Jeff Wilkinson’s article in The State quotes nuclear industry officials, and also some academics, but does a pretty good job of relaying the environmental concerns:

Nuclear power critic Tom Clements, with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said relatively little is known about the dangers of mini-nuclear reactors.

But it is clear that mini-reactors would create nuclear waste, just as larger, conventional reactors would, he said.

The nation’s high-level nuclear waste was to be shipped to a burial ground in Nevada for disposal, but President Obama pulled the plug on the project after protests from western lawmakers, leaving utilities looking for new ways to get rid of the radioactive trash.

Clements’ group this week charged that a proposal to develop mini-nuclear reactors at the 310-square-mile Savannah River Site was an attempt to avoid scrutiny from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which must approve any license for a nuclear power plant. The Department of Energy, which runs the site near Aiken, denied the charge.

“There’s a lot to work out about this, Clements said. “That’s why I think the cheerleading for these reactors is way ahead of reality.”

In the absence of any plan for the long-term storage of nuclear waste, its almost certain that the radioactive waste produced by these reactors would stay in South Carolina. There should be hearings on these “mini-reactors” just as for any other nuclear reactor. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions’ attempt to circumvent the process is disturbing. Any hearings would drive home the dangers presented by the proliferation of nuclear reactors and the long-term hazards of stored nuclear-waste.

See also:

Columbia journalist Kevin Alexander Gray also posted the full FoE press release on his blog: http://thenewliberator.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/foia-documents-show-plan-to-pursue-experimental-nuclear-reactors-at-savannah-river-site-without-required-nrc-licenses/
.

Gray provides a link that indicates the extreme danger of allowing nuclear waste into SC. According to a presentation made only last September, the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions company is floating the idea of “permanent” nuclear waste storage at the Savannah River Site:

As an indication that some are thinking of SRS as the new Yucca Mountain, in a SRNS presentation to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board on September 29, 2010 entitled SRS Energy Park – Vision and Implementing Concepts, the SMRs are pitched as part of a “potential alternative to Yucca Mountain.”

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