Gov. Nikki Haley sought to get in front of rumors that lawmakers are considering a plan to reopen a Barnwell County low-level nuclear waste dump.
The Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility holds waste from normally non-radioactive items that became contaminated (such as protective clothing or equipment from power plants). But a 2000 compact limits the site to taking waste from just South Carolina, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
Now the contractor which runs the site, Chem-Nuclear Systems subsidiary Energy Solutions, is asking lawmakers to let it take similar waste from other states, according to State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. Hutto, whose district includes the site, said no legislation has yet been introduced.
That didn’t stop the governor from pre-empting the idea. “South Carolina has become a state of quality. A state where we’re really improving everything about it,” Haley told reporters during a press conference Thursday. “And we think that to go and… take in additional waste would be a huge step backwards.”
But Hutto and Energy Solutions officials argue it is a mischaracterization to say the site would be increasing its capacity. Hutto said the plan being discussed would bring in different classes of waste from other sources, but he maintains it would essentially be the same capacity as before.
“There’s no difference in waste that comes from a decommissioned power plant in Pennsylvania versus New Jersey,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “It just happens that Connecticut and New Jersey are in the compact. All the other states are not.”
Energy Solutions has been pitching the plan as a way to bring new jobs to Barnwell County, whose 10 percent unemployment rate is the state’s fifth-highest. The site currently does very little business since it was closed to all but the three compact states.
But Haley said the jobs potential would not change her mind. “We don’t sell our souls for jobs and money,” she said. “Yes, I’m the ‘jobs governor’ and yes, we want to go in and improve the economy. But you have to look at what cost do you do that.”
The site has come under heavy criticism from environmental groups over measurable amounts of the radioactive isotope tritium that has gotten into groundwater at the site. However, Energy Solutions and state regulators say the contaminations detected at wells on the site have been below the limit for safe drinking water standards.
The Aiken Standard reports Chem-Nuclear’s current proposal would take Class A waste (the lowest level) from the Barnwell site and store it at a facility it owns in Utah. In exchange, the Barnwell site would receive shipments of Class B and C waste, both of which would have to meet more rigorous requirements to ensure stability.