Group protests land lease at SRS

An environmental group says it will challenge the U.S. Energy Department's plan to lease 2,700 acres within Savannah River Site to a nonprofit economic development group working to lure jobs and new missions to the area.

"At this point they haven't said what the land would be used for," said Tom Clements, the Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator with Friends of the Earth. "By leaving it vague, this is a foot in the door for missions that could be very detrimental to the states of South Carolina and Georgia."

The department announced last week that it would prepare an environmental assessment "to evaluate the potential environmental consequences" of the proposed lease to the SRS Community Reuse Organization for an energy park.

Mr. Clements said the proposed park could attract expensive nuclear reprocessing facilities that could burden taxpayers and endanger the environment.

The Energy Department's plan to prepare an environmental assessment -- rather than a more detailed environmental impact statement -- will give the public less opportunity for input, he said.

But the notice of the study does point out that an environmental impact statement can be done on specific facilities that might be proposed for the site in the future.

Rick Toole, the Community Reuse Organization's chairman, said it is far too early to define specific projects for the site -- or to conduct specific studies as to their suitability.

"At this point, all we have is what we'd like to see happen," he said. "But the general idea is to provide our economic development people in both states an opportunity for facilities that are not readily locatable in a regular industrial park."

Such facilities, he said, could include nuclear reactors or facilities for reprocessing spent nuclear fuels. Any reactors brought to the park would likely be research oriented, rather than energy producers, he said.

ASSESSMENT VS. STATEMENT

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT: A concise document that briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an environmental impact statement or a finding of no significant impact. A draft EA is made available to host and interested states, and to the public, for comment prior to an agency decision to prepare an EIS or issue a finding of no significant impact.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT: Prepared on a major federal action significantly affecting the human environment, and it includes the environmental impact of the proposed action, a description of impacts that cannot be avoided should the project be implemented and alternatives to the proposed action and their impacts.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy