GOP presidential candidates and S.C. Republicans divided over nuclear waste storage issue

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Republicans are not letting what’s said in Vegas stay in Vegas when it comes to the nation’s nuclear waste.

During a Tuesday debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney all said they oppose using the Yucca Mountain storage site in Nevada.

The Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been temporarily storing and processing nuclear waste. State leaders fear that without the Yucca site, South Carolina will get stuck with the waste indefinitely. Republicans in early-voting South Carolina claim the Obama administration’s moves to scuttle the Yucca Mountain project are aimed at benefiting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

In the debate, Paul said the nuclear waste site was a state rights issue. “And then we get involved with which state’s going to get stuck with the garbage,” Paul said.

Romney agreed. “The idea that 49 states can tell Nevada, ‘We want to give you our nuclear waste,’ doesn’t make a lot of sense.” He said Nevadans should be offered a good deal on taking the waste “as opposed to having the federal government jam it down their throat.”

In a rough-and-tumble debate, it was one of the few points where Perry agreed with Romney. “But on this one, he’s hit it, the nail, right on the head,” Perry said.

Luke Byars, a Columbia political adviser unaffiliated with any presidential campaign, said those positions won’t go unnoticed and now will have to be explained. “In South Carolina, there may not be a whole lot we’re united on, but Yucca Mountain? That’s something we’re all united on,” Byars said.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a prepared statement that the “decision to close Yucca Mountain was a political, not a scientific, decision. ... Failing to open Yucca Mountain creates real problems for states like South Carolina. I believe it’s a mistake for the Republican Party to buy into the political answer like President Obama did. We should stick to the science.”

South Carolina utility customers have put more than $1 billion into a trust fund to set up a permanent waste site, including decades of material generated at the Savannah River Site for the nation’s nuclear weapons. The Savannah River Site is nearly half way through turning 37 million gallons of waste in 49 tanks into a glass form that is encased in stainless steel. Those containers were supposed to be shipped to Yucca Mountain for long-term storage.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina released a statement Thursday that said he is disappointed “to hear that some of the GOP Presidential hopefuls share Senator Harry Reid’s views on Yucca Mountain. ... I suspect many South Carolina voters, including myself, will expect to hear the presidential candidates’ solution to this problem during their next visit to the Palmetto State.”

Former Gov. Mark Sanford said the Obama administration reversed course on three decades of bipartisan work that would have relieved the Savannah River Site of some of its role. “It’s a mistake to drive national policy by the geography of a debate site or a campaign event,” Sanford said.

In 2010, Sanford held a news conference blistering the Obama administration on Yucca. He was flanked by GOP candidates vying to succeed him, including now-Gov. Nikki Haley

Haley stopped short of criticizing the candidates, but said the promise made to find a new home for the waste needs to be kept. “You can’t take our money and make us keep our waste. That’s just the worst of a bad deal,” Haley said. “It’s something that I’m going to continue to yell about until they either take it or give us our money back.”

If the candidates “are now going to make excuses about Yucca Mountain, it’s got to go somewhere and we can’t wait for them to figure out where it’s going to go,” Haley said. South Carolina voters “are going to want to know what their answers are to that.”


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