Aiken group fears SRS could become nation's nuclear dump

News 12 First at Five / Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW) -- Could Savannah River Site become the nation's nuclear waste dump?

"SRS is on the short list for interim storage of 70,000 tons of nuclear waste. Yeah, and that's a big elephant in the room," said Jesse Young of Aiken.

In 1987, in an amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Yucca Mountain, a mountain in Nevada, was chosen as the location for a geological repository for the nation's nuclear waste.

The license application was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008 by the Department of Energy. It was the NRC's goal to say whether the site was safe or not so construction could continue.

When President Barack Obama took office, the DOE under him moved to pull that license application in order to end Yucca Mountain. The NRC has yet to rule on President Obama's motion to withdraw that license.

A committee President Obama established, the Blue Ribbon Commission, was tasked with finding an alternative. In its report to Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu in early 2012, the commission recommended finding a site for another deep geological repository, which will be a lengthy process. It also calls for "interim" storage sites in the meantime.

Now, some believe SRS could be a top candidate for interim storage.

"Interim storage is 50 to 100 years," said Young of the new group Don't Waste Aiken. "If the waste comes here, it's going to stay here, and it's going to stay here, probably, for generations."

Young founded the group to fight back against a possible designation of SRS as an interim storage site.

"We're not scientists. We're homeowners and grandparents and business owners," he said.

On Thursday, the organization, along with the Sierra Club, brought an expert to town. Bob Alvarez is former adviser to the Department of Energy. He served Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, who was secretary under President Bill Clinton.

In a new report, released Thursday, Alvarez says radiation levels at SRS would double if waste is allowed here.

"I'm not questioning the ability of the people at Savannah River to handle this material," he said in a news conference. I'm really trying to give people an idea of what the implications are."

The report makes some recommendations but adds that reprocessing the waste at SRS isn't the answer.

As for Young, he just hopes it'll remain the nation's problem to fix.

"If they stick it here, it's going to be South Carolina's problem, and we are not powerful enough in the Congress or the Senate," he said.

Not all share those opinions. Clint Wolfe, executive director for the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, says the report is nothing but "scare tactics" and "fear mongering." He adds that the workers at SRS are most suited to manage additional nuclear waste. He says that he has not seen or read the report, but he says he believes it serves to invoke an "emotional response from the public." He says any additional nuclear waste at SRS would not affect human health or the environment at all.

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