Tom Clements: No Nuclear Waste Storage In SC

Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth, and the SC Green Party’s 2010 nominee for U.S. Senate, is encouraging the public to let Governor Nikki Haley know where you stand on nuclear waste storage in the state of South Carolina.

It is possible that SC will become a repository for spent nuclear fuel rods. This is a recommendation of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste storage.

Right now, this old fuel is stored on site at the nuclear plants where it was used.  Many of these rods are stored in water, and are subject to exposure should the water level dropped – as happened at the Fukushima reactors in Japan in April 2011.

These waste rods could be stored in dry concretized containers on site.   But such are the dangers of the waste, that people around the country would rather see them exported to anyplace else that will take them.   South Carolina could be that place.

It is likely that any temporary storage of this waste will become permanent.    There is no permanent repository for the spent nuclear fuel.  Without a permanent plan for disposing of these rods, South Carolina will be made a dumping ground.

Tom covers the controversy completely in a recent opinion column printed in Columbia’s The State newspaper.

Take a moment to print this letter, and mail it to Governor Haley, or fax it to 803-734-5167.  Let her and your local officials know that South Carolina cannot be the nuclear waste dump of the nation.

Nikki Haley Letter Against Nuclear Waste Storage in SC.

Print and mail or fax this letter to SC Governor Nikki Haley. Email the text to Governor Haley via this link: http://www.governor.sc.gov/contact/Pages/Contact.aspx.

Read Tom’s guest editorial in The State after the jump:

Friday, Jul. 29, 2011

Clements: Nuclear waste threat looms for S.C.

By TOM CLEMENTS – Guest Columnist

In 2007, the Legislature closed the Barnwell low-level radioactive-waste facility to unconstrained national access. The hard-fought victory seemed to have ended indiscriminate nuclear dumping in our state, but it may have only been a lull in the fight.

A much larger nuclear waste threat is looming. Much of the nation’s 65,000 metric tons of radioactive spent fuel now stored at reactor sites across the country could be brought to South Carolina for “interim” storage and reprocessing. The prospect of becoming the new Yucca Mountain spent-fuel dump surely will be rejected by many South Carolinians, but the federal government’s plans threaten to leave us holding the nuclear waste bag nonetheless.

A blue ribbon commission, established by President Obama in January 2010 after the unraveling of plans for a geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, is charged with recommending the fate of spent fuel. Those recommendations, expected to be issued today, also will address the deadly high-level waste at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site near Aiken.

Draft subcommittee reports were issued in June, and a central recommendation, certain to be embraced by the full commission, is to “establish one or more consolidated interim storage facilities” for spent fuel. Given its uncertain future as federal funding decreases, SRS is now squarely in the nuclear crosshairs to become an “interim” site, with special interests poised to exploit this situation.

Gov. Dick Riley warned back in 1982 during debates over nuclear waste policy: “There is a basic law of political physics that waste tends to stay where it is first put.” Despite plenty of evidence to support Riley’s Law, some South Carolinians support the “interim” storage option at SRS. Their motivation derives from financial incentives, with contractors earning payment from the Nuclear Waste Fund established for spent fuel disposal. An official with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which manages SRS, confirmed in April that interim storage at SRS was being studied, and the idea was pitched by a federal Energy Department official as early as 2009 to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board.

Worse, “interim” spent fuel storage at SRS could be exploited by proponents of government-financed reprocessing, a dirty, dangerous and costly chemical process designed to remove plutonium from spent fuel — about 1 percent of the content. Reprocessing magnifies the waste problem by turning intact spent fuel into a host of hard-to-manage radioactive waste streams, including contaminated uranium.

During the Cold War, reprocessing of fuel for weapons-grade plutonium at SRS produced 37 million gallons of liquid high-level waste stored in 51 aging underground tanks. An SRS official told the National Academies of Science in 2008 that “Radioactive waste stored in SRS tanks poses the single greatest environmental risk in the state of South Carolina.”

It costs nearly $1 billion per year to immobilize SRS waste in robust containers, and the job won’t be finished for two decades. Reprocessing of commercial spent fuel would produce waste of higher radioactivity and larger volume. We can ill afford to manage more such unstable radioactive material at the site.

Reprocessing reuses the small amount of separated plutonium in reactors as mixed uranium-plutonium fuel, or MOX — hence the misleading green-washing claim that reprocessing is “recycling.” Huge cost overruns and serious problems in the on-going SRS program to make MOX from surplus weapons are fueling speculation that the program could collapse due to technical, scheduling, cost and nuclear proliferation concerns. With no reactors lined up to use MOX, it’s clear that there is no market for this dangerous fuel, yet politicians claiming to be fiscal conservatives protect the $10 billion program.

It is time to vigorously pursue cheaper and safer options. First, place spent fuel in dry casks at reactor sites; it’s the best option now before us and would reduce dangerous storage in pools of water. Second, immobilize the plutonium in existing high-level waste at SRS with the goal of removing it to a geologic repository along with spent fuel.

As the public likely will realize the risks, now is the time for politicians to step forward and demonstrate leadership in defending our state from nuclear dumpers.

 Mr. Clements, the 2010 Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina, is Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth. Reach him at tomclements329@cs.com

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