Hearing to cover plan to research reactors

AIKEN - A proposal to research and develop advanced nuclear power reactors at Savannah River Site that can run off recycled fuel will be the subject of a public hearing Thursday.


The Department of Energy will accept comment on the agency's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a plan to spread nuclear power across the globe using advanced reactors that run off spent nuclear fuel. The hearing will be used to compile an environmental impact statement.

Leftover fuel from the nation's current crop of nuclear power reactors is left behind as dangerous waste that stays radioactive for thousands of years.

There are two teams promoting SRS: One includes the Economic Development Partnership for Aiken and Edgefield counties and Washington Savannah River Co., the private contractor that runs SRS; and another is made up of Energy Solutions, a subcontractor at SRS, and Southern Carolina Alliance, an economic development agency based in Barnwell.

The teams are among a field of 11 that were selected in November and given a share of $16 million to prepare site preparation plans. The DOE wants to develop a nuclear fuel recycling center, an advanced reactor that runs off recycled fuel and an advanced fuel research center.

There are potentially billions of dollars and hundreds of jobs at stake, though the plan's future relies on support from Congress.

In the proposed 2008 federal budget President Bush laid out earlier this month, the DOE asked for about $400 million to start research projects.

It's too early to say what kind of economic impact the research could mean at SRS, said Mal McKibben, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, an organization that supports new missions at SRS.

Under the energy partnership President Bush has described, the U.S. would develop advanced reactors and share the technology with other countries. Those countries would pass back used fuel, which the U.S. would recycle.

Critics point to proliferation risks and the fact that the government has yet to successfully treat all of its existing nuclear waste.

"Failed attempts at reprocessing still scar the landscape," said Lou Zeller, the executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. "We're still cleaning up that kind of contamination at Savannah River Site."

The only thing preventing successful cleanup, Mr. McKibben said, is political wrangling in Washington and a lack of money.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.


WHAT: Federal officials will hold a public hearing Thursday to accept comment on proposed research into advanced nuclear power at Savannah River Site.

WHERE: North Augusta Community Center, 495 Brookside Ave.

WHEN: 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.