Originally created 11/16/00

Six states' lawmakers meet to discuss SRS



Savannah River Site was the topic of conversation Wednesday among legislators from throughout the nation.

Lawmakers from several states with U.S. Department of Energy plants met in Augusta to learn more about the local nuclear weapons site and its role in the Energy Department complex.

The conference, sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures, was the latest in a series designed to give legislators a closer look at the nuclear weapons complex, said Howard Kerr, a state representative from Tennessee and chairman of Wednesday's forum.

"We like to go to a site so we can see the local facilities, what's done there and how it fits into the national Energy Department complex," Mr. Kerr said. "It's a roundtable discussion, basically, to share ideas.

"It's a give and take. Anytime there are issues, they need to be shared."

Lawmakers toured SRS on Tuesday, Mr. Kerr said.

Besides Mr. Kerr, attendees of Wednesday's meeting included: Rep. John Heaton of New Mexico; Rep. Jack Barraclough of Idaho; Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen of Nevada; Assemblyman John Lee of Nevada; and John Meder of Nevada's Legislative Counsel Bureau.

Georgia and South Carolina lawmakers who attended were: Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta; Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez; Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta; Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken; Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken; Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; and Rep. Don Smith, R-North Augusta.

Some local denizens implored their fellow legislators to inform their constituents of their larger role in dealing with post-Cold War cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex.

"I want you to leave here understanding that if we can convince the people of Nevada and other states of the relationship between our states and SRS, then there is no fear," Mr. Cheeks said. "Fear is when you are not knowledgeable."

Other legislators also spoke of the need to educate their fellow office-holders.

"In our country in the nuclear arena, the window of opportunity to get well-informed decision makers is shrinking," Mr. Kerr said. "There is a terribly large number of legislators out there who we have to reach."

But some lawmakers warned that such efforts would be a hard sell in many parts of the country. In Nevada, for instance, the average resident stridently opposes a proposed repository that would store much of the nation's highly radioactive waste, Mr. Lee said.

The site would mean little more than "small potatoes" for Nevada's economy, he said, but it would introduce a great deal of risk to the environment and the public health.

"It doesn't seem to be worth any risk for us to take," Mr. Lee said. "Nevada is not looking to get a windfall from somebody else's waste."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.