Originally created 04/16/06

Envoys to see waste depository

AIKEN - A citizen envoy group from Aiken County will travel to Yucca Mountain this week to see firsthand the repository where 36 million gallons of radioactive waste at Savannah River Site is supposed to be buried.

The trip to Nevada is being organized by the Energy Communities Alliance, a Washington, D.C.,- based organization that lobbies on behalf of people who live near 13 Department of Energy sites, including SRS.

Aiken County Councilman Chuck Smith; Eric Thompson, a former executive director of the Lower Savannah Council of Governments; and Mike Butler, a one-time SRS employee, will represent Aiken County.

The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to prepare the mountain range to receive thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel. Radioactive fuel used to run commercial power plants and waste from Energy Department sites currently is stored at installations throughout the country.

Yucca Mountain was supposed to start receiving waste in 1998, but that has been continuously delayed because of legal and scientific challenges. Officials now say it won't open until 2012.

Radioactive material at SRS is a sore point for the county council. It has sued the Energy Department, asking it to stop shipping plutonium to the site until it can clearly show how it will leave. The suit remains unsettled.

"I don't even think the DOE knows fully what is going on," Mr. Smith said. "We're going to take a leadership role and make sure we have the facts."

The Aiken County envoys will meet with their peers near Yucca Mountain, which is about 90 miles from Las Vegas, and will likely tour the site, Mr. Smith said.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman toured the burial ground last week. He introduced federal legislation April 5 aimed at getting Yucca Mountain open, including a call to increase how much waste could be stored there.

"In order to expand our nuclear generating capacity, we need a safe, permanent, geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain," Mr. Bodman said at the time.

Such statements don't do much to appease Mr. Smith.

"Quite frankly, their track record is not that good," he said of the Energy Department. "In fact, it's lousy."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.


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