Posted on Sun, May 17, 2009

Corbett: No new nuclear waste for South Carolina


Guest Columnist

With the failure of the nationís nuclear spent fuel repository at Yucca Mountain to open and $1.6 billion in federal stimulus funds in the offing, some legislative officials are offering up our state to become the nationís dumping ground for the more than 55,000 tons of deadly radioactive waste generated by nuclear reactors, even suggesting a revival of the reprocessing debacle.

Nuclear reprocessing produces the sort of high-level waste that is sitting in leaking tanks at the Savannah River Site, considered by many, even DHEC, to be the most significant environmental hazard threatening South Carolina.

Why are some of our legislators actively pursuing what many consider the most risky, dirty and dangerous nuclear activity? U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Reps. James Clyburn and Joe Wilson are openly calling for reprocessing, although they admit our state has a dismal record of ever getting rid of any radioactive waste dumped here. Reprocessing would mean the whole nation would transport its high-level waste to our state. We would become Yucca Mountain.

Reprocessing is not a final solution. In a process that chops up the spent fuel rods and dissolves them in a witches brew of nitric acids, it creates large amounts of high-level radioactive waste and a low-level radioactive liquid waste stream. It also separates out and creates stockpiles of plutonium and uranium that will take generations, if not centuries, for disposition. Worldwide reprocessing has resulted in tons of unused plutonium, creating a monstrous proliferation risk.

Reprocessing does not negate the need for a geologic repository, unless we agree to let the waste stay here forever, in an environment completely unsuited for long-term storage. Gov. Dick Riley once said the first law of radioactive waste is it tends to stay where it is dumped. That certainly has been the case in South Carolina.

Reprocessing is very expensive. The Japanese have spent $20 billion (triple the original projection) trying to start up a reprocessing facility at Rokkasho. Early projections for a U.S. reprocessing facility top $25 billion. Isnít the nuclear industry subsidized enough by taxpayers through loan guarantees, Construction Work in Progress laws and the Price-Anderson Act, without adding this to the bill?

Reprocessing sites in Sellafield, England, and West Valley, N.Y., are some of the most contaminated places in the world, where deadly radioactive nuclides have migrated offsite into water tables, air and soil. Guess whoís paying for the attempts to clean up these toxic sites? Taxpayers, of course.

Reprocessing spent fuel is too expensive, too dirty and completely unnecessary. The better way to handle spent fuel is to store it on site at reactors in a safe, economical method known as hardened onsite storage, and wait for another, more geologically suitable repository to be sited. While this does shift the burden of monitoring nuclear waste to the location where it was made, there is some justice in this: The community that benefited from the construction of the plant and utilized the power it generated also shares in the burden and responsibility of its waste, instead of dumping it on someone who received no benefit.

We have become the Dump It In Dixie state. Everything, from municipal garbage to corporate hog farms to deadly radioactive waste from all over the world has found a safe, cheap, environmentally lax haven here. In the national game of radioactive waste hot potato, we always seem to be left holding the toxic spud.

Shame on Wilson, Clyburn, Graham and other elected officials for trading dollars for dumping, in any way, shape or form. Citizens need to call their elected officials and tell them we donít want to be Yucca Mountain. Tell them to take the clean-up stimulus money and really clean up the Savannah River Site. Donít make or take any more radioactive waste that will remain forever in our state.

Ms. Corbett, of West Columbia, chairs the S.C. chapter of the Sierra Club.

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