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Don't make SRS nuke dump, panel told

Senator's remarks are part of Blue Ribbon Commission visit

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Savannah River Site could help solve the nation's nuclear waste challenges, but it should not become a permanent dumping ground, members of a national study panel were told Friday.

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A crowd listens to a panel discussion during the Blue Ribbon Commission public meeting on Friday in downtown Augusta.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
A crowd listens to a panel discussion during the Blue Ribbon Commission public meeting on Friday in downtown Augusta.

"I'm not going to let my state, or our sister state, be left holding the bag without one hell of a fight," U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham told members of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The panel, created by the Obama administration, was asked to develop new policies for disposing of high-level defense waste and spent nuclear fuel.

During a day-long meeting in Augusta, the group heard from an array of speakers, many of whom criticized the government's controversial decision to abandon its Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, which was designed as a permanent repository for 70,000 tons of spent fuel from the nation's 104 commercial reactors.

"It was a short-sighted decision with devastating consequences," Graham told the commission, which is co-chaired by former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Canceling Yucca Mountain after spending more than $10 billion in nuclear waste fund fees collected from generators of spent fuel is unfair, he said.

Georgia's contribution to that fund amounts to about $716 million, while South Carolina interests have paid more than $1.3 billion.

"You've taken $1.3 billion in fees from South Carolina to build a hole that we're not going to use," Graham said. "We either want our money back, or we want to use that hole."

The absence of a clear path for spent nuclear fuel will make it harder for the nation to add more nuclear power plants that are needed to reduce America's dependence on Mideast oil, Graham said.

France, he said, gets 82 percent of its power from nuclear sources, while the U.S. percentage is barely 20 percent. "Surely, we can be as bold as the French," he told commissioners, adding that the government's failure to find a solution for waste is a major impediment to the public's willingness to move forward with more nuclear power plants.

Scowcroft acknowledged there are major political challenges in solving the nation's nuclear waste disposal problems.

"There is a feeling that the government keeps changing the rules," he said. "One of the problems is, how do we establish a system in which people can have confidence that it won't all be changed in the next election."

Manuel Bettencourt, speaking on behalf of the SRS Citizens Advisory Board, said Savannah River Site has significant resources -- including H Canyon -- that could assist in research and development of ways to reprocess nuclear wastes.

H Canyon is the nation's sole remaining facility where certain types of plutonium, highly enriched uranium and aluminum-clad spent nuclear fuels can be processed for disposal.

Bettencourt also praised the Blue Ribbon Commission for the public process by which it is conducting its mission.

In contrast, he said, the public was not comparably privy to why the Yucca Mountain project was abruptly labeled as not technically or politically feasible.

The concept of reprocessing, possibly at SRS, was also supported by Clint Wolfe, the executive director of the pro-nuclear Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Although coal and gas emissions threaten the world's water and air, nuclear energy has the potential to provide a clean alternative, he said.

"This country knows where all of its nuclear waste is located," he said. "It's safe, it's guarded and it's never hurt anybody."

Environmentalists, however, fear reprocessing programs could bring more dangerous nuclear waste to South Carolina.

"We're all concerned about future jobs, but reprocessing is not a good idea," said Tom Clements, the nuclear campaign director for Friends of the Earth.

The Energy Department's Environmental Management arm, he contended, is working out of the public eye to advance such programs.

"It's more about money going to special interests, and to bring future missions to the site," he said. "Their mission is cleanup, and they need to get back to that mission."

Charles Utley, an Augusta resident representing the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, told commission members they should work toward a nuclear-free future for the nation and urged them to consider the plight of people who live near nuclear sites.

"I'm here to speak on behalf of those who live at ground zero," he said. "There are better alternatives."

Solar and wind power, for example, have great potential as clean energy sources that will help ease dependence on foreign oil.

Friday's meeting at the Augusta Marriott Riverwalk Hotel followed a tour of Savannah River Site on Thursday.

The commission's next destination is New Mexico, where members will tour the Energy Department's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and hold more public meetings in Carlsbad and Albuquerque.

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fdn315 01/07/11 - 01:46 pm
I wonder if that meeting is

I wonder if that meeting is public?

workedforit 01/07/11 - 02:30 pm
And these decisions are being

And these decisions are being made by the government, the same bunch a select group of mentally challenged people wish to entrust healthcare and future financial stability to.

Name one thing the federal government has a hand in that is not a complete failure?

augsaltwater 01/07/11 - 03:12 pm
Yes the Citizens for Nuclear

Yes the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness meeting was open for public comment today.

DawgnSC69 01/07/11 - 03:13 pm
Sen. Graham is right on this.

Sen. Graham is right on this. Yucca Mtn. employed thousands of people during design and construction. Now that's almost done and no need to employ that many people, the government of Nevada now says we can't use it. They got what they wanted out of it. Now what?

The federal government, particurly DOE, consitently spends billions of dollars on projects only to be cancelled near completion. Take K-Reactor with it's cooling tower. Oops, forgot, it doesn't exist anymore thanks to a million or more to implode it. There's many more to name but don't have the time. Just wonder now if the MOX and Pit Disassembly will follow the same path to nowhere.

I'm fine with funding required DOE projects, but use the facility when it's done. It's like a science project.

rmwhitley 01/07/11 - 06:38 pm
Didn't obama invite a Boston

Didn't obama invite a Boston policeman to a Pabst Blue Ribbon panel meeting?

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 01/08/11 - 09:34 am
Good to see so many people

Good to see so many people speaking out at the meeting against "reprocessing" of spent nuclear fuel at SRS. The public will be not take kindly to bringing radioactive spent fuel to SRS for processing, with dumping of the huge amount of useless but dangerous radioactive by-products.

Marooned 01/08/11 - 11:49 am
Just a couple of general

Just a couple of general thoughts and some specifics...

Things in which the Federal government has had a hand that were not complete failures? Well-l-l-l... Interstate highways... TVA... NASA......National Parks... hook-worm elimination... and a few more.

I was one of the public comment people. I also listened to the comments of lots of other people and the questions from the Blue Ribbon Commission. This was a day well-spent by all of us. There was respect for differing views.

We are involved in solving a lot of problems in the SouthEast, the U.S. and the world. If this Commission can actually carry-through on its promise to explore both answers to the scientific processes of what to do with nuclear waste and how to achieve good understanding and input from the people of the U.S., it will have made major achievements.

My sense is that at least many of the commissioners want to hear what we want to say... all of us... pro... anti... uncertain. If they are willing to listen, then all of us... pro... anti... uncertain... need to work with them and with each other.

Maybe the Augusta "Chronicle" would like to volunteer to be a facilitator?

okfrank 01/08/11 - 02:49 pm
What's not being said is that

What's not being said is that reprocessing can use up more than 90% of the unspent fuel. (some like to call it "waste") Besides getting rid of most of the radioactive fuel it also shortens the life of the remaining radioactive products to a few hundred years rather than thousands of years. This is economical too since the reprocessing creates energy for electricity.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 01/09/11 - 11:19 am
okfrank - If 90% of the

okfrank - If 90% of the unspent fuel can be reused, it would be great if you could explain. Reprocessing is after the 1% of the spent fuel that is plutonium, which can be used once but at great cost and technical difficulties. The separated uranium, which is contaminated with fission products, is being stored as waste, with a tiny amount possibly being reused in France. Are you sating that the thousands of tons of contaminated uranium that is separated from reprocessing can be reused? If so, why isn't anyone doing it and why is SRS aiming to dump their reprocessed uranium (from military reprocessing) in Nevada, or Texas, or Utah...? Please present the way forward to reuse this material. Or, is it just waste to be dumped? Thanks for the clarification.

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