Originally created 01/30/98

SRS might stop sending out its laundry



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The Savannah River Site might resume doing its wash in-house to spare Columbia residents who fear contamination from a nuclear laundry in their neighborhood.

Westinghouse Savannah River Co., which runs the Aiken-area nuclear complex for the federal government, currently sends radiation-tinged clothing to Interstate Nuclear Services. INS started doing SRS's wash in 1995 after the government closed its own laundry to save money. Its contract expires in two years.

Westinghouse-SRS official Larry MacLean has asked top officials about putting a new laundry on the 300-square-mile plant site. But such a change would take further study and several years.

"I've had conversations with our senior people to say, `Isn't there a way we can bring it back on site?' " said MacLean, manager of general services. "That's not to say it's going to be done, but we have to closely examine all the alternatives."

INS executive Mike Fuller was not available for comment, The (Columbia) State reported today.

Westinghouse and state health officials say INS has run the laundry safely since getting a five-year $16 million contract.

But community groups worry that dangerous levels of radiation could escape the 27-year-old plant, which is in the middle of a residential neighborhood and within two miles of the University of South Carolina campus.

INS previously did wash for commercial nuclear-power plants, rather than government facilities like SRS. Many people first learned of the Columbia plant when the SRS shipments were publicized in 1996.

The Energy Department would have to approve putting a laundry on SRS property. "It would probably require environmental studies, and there is a question of who would regulate it," Energy spokesman Jim Giusti said. "A lot would need to be done before any decision like that could be made."

Even so, lawyers for environmental and community groups were encouraged by Westinghouse's discussions. Their efforts apparently had an impact, environmental lawyers Jimmy Chandler and Bob Guild said.

If INS built a new laundry on or next to SRS, it could close its Columbia operation as originally planned, Guild said. Both federal and commercial clothing could be washed at a new laundry, he said.

That was INS' idea when it won the federal contract, Guild said. But the company never built a new laundry about 20 miles from SRS because of concerns in that community. It then opted to ship SRS's wash to its existing laundry in Columbia.