Originally created 05/05/04

SRS conundrums



Savannah River Site's Citizens Advisory Board is right to be concerned that the Department of Energy has so far failed to come up with a plan to dispose of 13 metric tons of plutonium, including five metric tons already at the site.

Without a disposal plan, the panel is also right - and clearly speaks for the community at large - in opposing the agency's scheme to ship more trash-laced plutonium from three other federal nuclear installations to SRS.

The idea was to process and encase the highly radioactive material in special glass containers for eventual burial at the Yucca Mountain waste facility in Nevada, but when that operation was considered too expensive, and no new plan developed to take its place, the advisory panel, as well as Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., understandably balked at accepting any more plutonium from the other federal installations.

They don't want SRS to become DOE's storage bin for scrap plutonium by default - and neither does anyone else living in the region. That's not what SRS was built for. If there's no exit strategy for the plutonium, then there should be no entry strategy either.

In another tiff, environmentalists are bullheadedly fighting Sen. Graham's legislation that would allow the agency to move ahead on its accelerated cleanup plan as it applies to SRS. A federal judge in Idaho last year blocked the plan under way at all the DOE-owned nuclear facilities.

Graham's proposal, which was negotiated with DOE, Gov. Sanford, and technical experts at South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control, among others, would allow the removal of all but 1 percent of 37 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste at the site. That last residual amount would then be grouted and left in place.

If the DHEC were not satisfied the grouting was safe, the state could "veto" any material the DOE sought to leave behind. This provision makes a shambles of environmentalists' claim that the Graham plan would "make DOE the ultimate arbiter of how that waste will be disposed."

If the accelerated cleanup is allowed to proceed under Graham's plan at SRS, it would save $16 billion and be completed 23 years earlier than presently scheduled. Sometimes no solutions are perfect, but if anyone has a better solution than the senator's, now's the time to come forth with it.