September 17, 2014

New watchdog group forms to eye Savannah River Site

Anti-nuclear activists have created a new group that is meant to act as a watchdog on a former nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina.

Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) at Savannah River Site (Image: High Flyer)

Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) at Savannah River Site (Image: High Flyer)

SRS Watch will monitor activities at the Savannah River Site, a sprawling Department of Energy complex near Aiken that made nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Now, the federal government is overseeing the cleanup of radioactive waste and other hazardous materials on the site.

The group’s director will be longtime nuclear watchdog Tom Clements. Clements is well known as the South Carolina’s environmental community’s top expert and spokesman on nuclear issues. Clements has worked as an advisor for Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. He also ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate as a member of the Green Party against then-Sen. Jim DeMint in 2010.

“As it is the Department of Energy’s nature to operate outside public scrutiny, our job will be to highlight to SRS programs that warrant public attention and involvement,” Clements said in a statement. He said he wants to focus first on a project that would convert weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. Known as the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX), the program is about to go on “cold standby” while the Energy Department examines if alternative methods exist to dispose of the plutonium. But South Carolina leaders have sued to keep the project running.

SRS Watch’s president Frances Close said the group’s work will be similar to the Energy Research Foundation, which functioned as a watchdog over SRS’s nuclear activities from 1980-1995.