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A 'lot of talk' delays action

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AIKEN - Attorneys might be the only obstacle to the Department of Energy's burial of Cold War nuclear waste at Savannah River Site.

Even though state officials approved it last month and notified opponents this week that there would be no more delays, the DOE had yet to start burying radioactive waste Friday.

"We are awaiting confirmation that the permit is indeed in effect," DOE spokeswoman Julie Petersen said. "We have to have that before we move forward with our processing."

There are about 36 million gallons of waste at the site left over from the production of nuclear weapons. It is the most dangerous hazard at SRS, and the DOE wants to empty aging tanks to avoid spills.

The current phase is being held up by a "lot of talk between legal offices" at DOE and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, Ms. Petersen said.

On Wednesday, DHEC mailed notices to the National Resources Defense Council and other groups opposed to some burial methods, alerting them that the agency's board had decided against a "final review conference."

Without the conference, "the department decision becomes the final agency decision," DHEC wrote. Shelly Sherritt, a DHEC liaison to SRS, said she believed burial could start once opponents received the notification, even though they could still appeal the decision.

Geoff Fettus, an attorney for the defense council, said Friday that he had not received notice that the conference had been denied, though others on his side had.

"We haven't made any decisions, and we'll have to talk to the folks in South Carolina who signed on," he said.

The DOE is still evaluating what could happen if opponents appealed to the administrative law court. Whenever the legal obstacles are removed, the agency is prepared to start burying.

"We're ready to go once that letter comes in the mail," DOE waste director Larry Ling said.

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


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