Originally created 08/23/96

Norwood wants SRS to process nuclear waste



If U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood has his way, truck loads of nuclear waste from 26 states would soon be heading for South Carolina.

At least 28,000 tons of it, to be exact.

At a breakfast meeting in Augusta Thursday, the Georgia Republican reiterated that he wants Savannah River Site near Aiken to accept nuclear fuel rods stored at 97 commercial power plants east of the Mississippi River. But only if a giant underground nuclear storage in the Nevada desert opens first.

Rather than sending the highly radioactive waste out West as is, Dr. Norwood has drafted legislation that would authorize SRS to reprocess the fuel. The liquid high-level waste created as a result would be turned into glass and shipped out to Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Sounds like a round-about way of dealing with nuclear waste?

Dr. Norwood claims not.

"What we'd do here is reduce (the waste) down in size and make it more stable," he said. "A glass log doesn't leak. I don't want to put any kind of canisters (in Yucca Mountain) that might have any type of fluid material in it."

In fact, spent nuclear fuel - assemblies of 8 to 12-feet-long metal tubes containing uranium pellets - don't contain any fluids.

But Dr. Norwood maintained his proposal makes sense. Especially, he said, as plutonium could be extracted from the fuel during reprocessing and used to fire up reactors that produce electricity for American consumers.

"It solves a large problem for the federal government, and if we're willing to do the federal government a big favor, then I want them to make sure we get new missions (at SRS) so we stay viable over there," he told members of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, a group pushing for new defense projects at SRS.

But as Dr. Norwood predicted, the idea of bringing more nuclear waste to South Carolina is sure to stir debate.

"It's one of the worst ideas I've heard in a long time," Brian Costner of Energy Research Foundation, an environmental group in Columbia, said of the congressman's proposal. "I hear a lot of strange ideas floating around, but this really tops the list."

Even though the volume of highly radioactive waste contained in nuclear fuel is reduced during reprocessing, Dr. Norwood fails to take into account the massive amounts of low-level waste that would be produced as well, Mr. Costner said.

Five million cubic feet of such waste would all have to be buried at SRS, he estimated.

Taxpayers would also have to foot the bill for a new plant at SRS needed to treat the commercial fuel before it's introduced to the reprocessing canyons, he said.

"It's just a waste of billions of dollars," Mr. Costner said.

The Department of Energy, which is responsible for the nuclear waste, says it has no plans to reprocess the material.