JACKSON --- A panel appointed by President Obama to examine U.S. nuclear waste policies toured Savannah River Site on Thursday as part of a fact-finding mission environmentalists fear could bring even more waste to the region.
"We had a very interesting, educational day here," said former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who co-chairs the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.
The commission was created after the Obama Administration's decision to abandon the government's Yucca Mountain project, which would have become the final repository for spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors and high-level wastes from the nation's nuclear weapons programs.
Although the group has visited other federal facilities in Hanford, Wash., and in Idaho, Savannah River Site includes the broadest variety of facilities and materials involved in the treatment, packaging and storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, Scowcroft said.
The commission members -- including former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Richard Meserve -- visited sites including the Defense Waste Processing Facility, where high-level wastes are "vitrified," or shrouded in glass and poured into steel canisters; and the under-construction mixed oxide fuel facility, which will use plutonium from dismantled nuclear bombs to make commercial reactor fuel.
Scowcroft said the commission's role is to make recommendations on the best way to manage nuclear waste, but not to choose where future facilities will be built.
"We are not a siting commission," he said in response to questions about Savannah River Site's future role in waste disposal. "We are mainly here to look at all the problems."
Commission members will hold a meeting today in Augusta to hear comments from environmental groups, politicians, commercial utility executives, economic developers and the governors and governors-elect of Georgia and South Carolina.