Originally created 08/16/06

Waste deadline passes with no resolution



AIKEN - South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Energy remained divided over the treatment of some high-level nuclear waste at Savannah River Site on Tuesday, a tentative deadline set in the hopes that it would speed negotiations.

The DOE and state Department of Health and Environmental Control have been haggling since December over the best way to remove some of the 36 million gallons of radioactive waste at the site.

The dispute centers on portions of the waste that will be removed from tanks and buried at SRS. The DOE has cut in half the amount of radioactivity it plans to leave behind, but state officials are holding out for a renewed commitment from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman that he'll carry through with it.

"I can tell you there's been a lot of efforts behind the scenes," Terry Spears, a DOE manager, said at an SRS Citizens Advisory Board meeting Tuesday.

He declined to provide details.

"I don't want to spoil the broth, so to speak," he said.

Last month, the advisory board asked the two sides to reach an agreement by Tuesday.

"I don't want to leave this hanging," said Bill Meisenheimer, chairman of the advisory board's waste committee.

The waste in question is stored in 49 tanks at the site, which the state wants emptied by about 2020. The DOE already has missed deadlines to close some tanks.

And even when the state gives the federal agency the permits it needs to close some tanks, it could still take up to two more months to complete the process, which includes a public comment period.

Mr. Bodman and Gov. Mark Sanford already have exchanged letters aimed at reaching an agreement, and Mr. Spears said the agency was preparing a response to the governor's last dispatch.

The two sides are trying to nail down a process that can be used for the closure of future tanks, as well, said Mr. Spears, who was optimistic an agreement was near.

"I'm talking a matter of weeks, not months," he said. "It is not because of a lack of effort."

For a decade, the DOE has been removing the most radioactive waste, which is being stored in glass canisters and is to be shipped out of state eventually. It has proven more complicated, however, to separate more contaminated waste from lower levels, a problem experts are still trying to solve.

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

WHAT'S NEXT:

South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Energy will try to finalize a process they can agree on in the next couple of weeks.



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