Savannah River Site fulfilled its weapons production duties for 50 years and should not be forced into a new role as a permanent nuclear waste dump, according to South Carolina and Georgia leaders who traveled to Washington on Wednesday to deliver a message to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
"We are here to make a simple statement: The federal government has broken faith with our communities and with others across the country who trusted implicitly in the Department of Energy's commitment to complete Yucca Mountain as the nation's preferred method of nuclear waste storage," said David Jameson, the chairman of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development group.
During a news conference at the National Press Club, Jameson and others lambasted the department's decision to renege on a commitment made long ago to build a permanent repository in Nevada for thousands of canisters of high-level nuclear waste stored at SRS.
"We believed we had a trusted partner in the federal government," he said. "Today, that partnership is in question."
Yucca Mountain, 90 miles from Las Vegas, was being designed to accommodate radioactive material stored at 121 temporary sites in 39 states, including SRS, where high-level waste is encased in glass and stored in steel cylinders that were to be shipped there.
Yucca Mountain also would have housed waste from the nation's 104 operating commercial reactors -- including Plant Vogtle in Burke County -- that collectively produce 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel each year.
In March, Chu announced that Yucca Mountain would be abandoned in favor of appointing a blue ribbon panel of experts to explore alternatives.
Sue Parr, the president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that Chu's panel has no representation from the SRS region or other areas that could become "de facto nuclear waste sites."
"What the panel recommends will impact us in the nuclear communities more than any other group," she said. "Fairness dictates that we have more than casual input."
The study group, led by former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and Gen. Brent Scowcroft, has 15 members, but none are from South Carolina.
In recent weeks, Aiken County filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seeking judicial relief to keep the Yucca Mountain licensing process active. Washington state has filed a similar suit, as have business leaders in Hanford, Wash.
Energy Department officials, asked to comment on the group's presentation, reiterated that the Yucca Mountain project will not be re-examined.
"As Secretary Chu has said consistently, Yucca Mountain is not an option and he looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for the long-term management of our spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste," DOE spokeswoman Katinka Podmaniczky said. "The Department of Energy welcomes input from our community partners at sites around the country as we move forward with these important decisions."