April 25, 2014

Duke to update state officials on coal ash in SC

W.S. Lee Steam Station (Image: Duke Energy)

W.S. Lee Steam Station (Image: Duke Energy)

South Carolina’s Public Service Commission will hear from Duke Energy on Monday over its plans to avoid spills of toxic coal byproducts, a month after a Duke coal ash pond spilled in North Carolina’s Dan River.

Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier told The State newspaper that the utility plans to discuss its coal ash facilities in both South Carolina and North Carolina at the meeting. Fly ash is a byproduct of coal-fired plants that includes elements such as arsenic and cadmium.

The Southern Environmental Law Center will also attend the meeting. The group released a report Friday, showing that researchers had discovered elevated arsenic levels in the ground at Duke Energy’s W.S. Lee steam station near Belton. The report said some of the arsenic levels exceeded safety standards. The group speculates that the pollution stems from groundwater seepage at the former coal plant’s ash ponds near the Saluda River.

Duke is in the process of retiring two of its coal-fired reactors at the Lee Station by 2015. A third reactor will be converted to natural gas.

A spill from a coal ash dump in North Carolina on Feb. 2 coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge. Since then, Duke has come under fire from environmentalists and lawmakers over its reliance on unlined coal ash dumps. South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee-Cooper have agreed to remove the ash away from riverbanks near their plants in Conway and Eastover and instead into dry storage.

Cleanup continues on Georgetown oil spill

HEPACO environmental response contractors use sorbent and a containment boom to contain and absorb the most concentrated oil Thursday (Image: Coast Guard)

HEPACO environmental response contractors use sorbent and a containment boom to contain and absorb the most concentrated oil Thursday (Image: Coast Guard)

The Coast Guard said Thursday afternoon that is continuing to monitor the cleanup of an oil spill on the Sampit River in Georgetown.

According to a Coast Guard release, ArcelorMittal Steel Mill took responsibility for the spill and contacted the Charlotte oil spill response organization HEPACO on Wednesday evening. HEPACO immediately began containing the oil sheen and recovering of the product.

ArcelorMittal said it is currently working to pinpoint the source of the oil and identify how much was released. The Coast Guard said more than 500 gallons of oil-water mixture has been recovered as of 11:00 a.m.

Once they arrived at the mill Wednesday evening, Coast Guard pollution responders said they discovered a portion of a containment boom used to protect the river from any residual pollutants had gotten caught on a piling. The release said the snag created a gap in the containment system and allowed the spilled oil to get into the Sampit River.  A 50-foot section of new containment boom has been placed in the area where the gap occurred and additional 100 feet of new sorbent and hard boom has been placed at the drain pipe where the oil exited the facility.

HEPACO said it is continuing to recover oil. There have been no reports of injured wildlife at this time.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and state Department of Natural Resources are also on the scene.

SC sues to keep nuclear fuel plant from shutting down

Gov. Nikki Haley held a news conference with Aiken County's legislative delegation on Tuesday

Gov. Nikki Haley held a news conference with Aiken County’s legislative delegation on Tuesday

South Carolina is suing the federal government over its plans to shut down a plant under construction in Aiken County that would convert weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel.

The Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, has been the subject of budget cut rumors for several years now as it’s years behind schedule and billions over budget. The facility is located at the former Savannah River Site weapons complex near Aiken. The United States decided to reprocess the weapons-grade plutonium in order to meet the terms of a 2000 nonproliferation treaty with Russia.

Gov. Nikki Haley insisted Tuesday that the Energy Department was breaking its promise to South Carolina.

“You’ve got millions of dollars that have been invested into this facility. And suddenly you’re going to say… ‘Never mind, it was a bad idea?’” Haley angrily told reporters on Tuesday. ”You can’t do that when it affects the lives of people.”

The MOX plant has been on the radar of budget hawks and environmentalists for years, as its construction budget spiraled out of control. When construction began in 2007, MOX was originally projected to cost $4.8 billion and be complete by September 2016. But those projections were revised two years ago and the MOX plant is now expected to cost at least $7.7 billion by the time it opens in November 2019.  According to the Energy Department’s new projections, the plant would cost a total of $30 billion after construction and an additional 15 years to convert 34 metric tons of bomb-grade plutonium to mixed oxide fuel. The agency said it lacks the funds to meet that price tag.

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Senators urge officials not to suspend SC nuclear project


Aerial view of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in

Aerial view of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility as construction continues (Image: National Nuclear Security Administration)

Senators representing South Carolina and Georgia have sent a letter urging federal officials not to suspend construction of a new nuclear fuel facility in Aiken County.

The letter signed by senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with Georgia’s Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, comes after the White House released a proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year that would place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility on cold stand-by. Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C. also signed the letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The proposed MOX facility is supposed convert plutonium from old nuclear warheads into an experimental type of fuel for nuclear reactors, but it has been delayed by cost overruns.

The $221 million budget request would put the project on stand-by while the Department of Energy looks into possible alternative methods for disposing of the plutonium. The United States has agreed to dispose of its warhead plutonium under a nonproliferation agreement with Russia and the Aiken County reprocessing plant was chosen as the means to do that.

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Bill allowing alligator farms in SC set for Senate debate

Alligator at public access at Sea Pines, Hilton Head

Alligator at public access at Sea Pines, Hilton Head

Wildlife and environmental groups say they are concerned about legislation currently in the state Senate that would allow alligator farms in South Carolina, but concede that amendments added in committee to bill S.714  add stronger controls to protect the environment.

The amendments were unanimously approved last week by the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee. Bill S.714 now heads to the Senate floor.

The alligators would be farmed for their meat and skins. But South Carolina Wildlife Federation executive director Ben Gregg said the existence of wild species of the reptile in the state must not be jeopardized.

“There is a concern for diseases that may be in the captive population that we don’t want to get out into the wild populations,” Gregg told South Carolina Radio Network. ”There is also a concern about mixing the genetic pools between the wild populations and the captive populations.”

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