What to do with about 70,000 metric tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste?
That’s the dilemma currently facing a Blue Ribbon Commission appointed by President Obama.
The Commission on America’s Nuclear Future held a hearing in Augusta Friday to discuss what’s next for nuclear waste after a controversial decision by the Obama Administration last year. The Department of Energy ended a project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada that would have stored highly-radioactive waste from across the country. The repository was dropped after environmental concerns were raised, angering states, companies, and communities that had paid for its construction.
Many of the speakers were frustrated with the closure, especially those representing the Savannah River Site in South Carolina– currently holding waste that was supposed to go to Yucca Mountain. David Jameson of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce says a non-political solution is necessary.
Support erodes when we make an announcement that we’re going in one direction and everybody believes that to be true. Then we move in another direction and we move in a third direction and, a decade later, the announcement is made back to direction “A.” We need to take the politics out of it.
Senator Lindsey Graham also addressed the Commission, calling the Yucca Mountain decision “short-sighted.” However, he also said he believed reprocessing nuclear waste into fuel was the best option for the Savannah River Site’s future.
Savannah River Solutions, the company that operates the site, is already researching the method of recycling. Danny Black leads the Southern Carolina Alliance, which works on attract industries to the area. He says the US is far behind other countries in the business. He mentioned Allied General, a company that was supposed to build a reprocessing plant in Barnwell County in the 1970s, before federal regulations prevented it from ever opening.
We believed then, and we believe now, that the government’s decision to abandon reprocessing was wrong-headed. It denied the company a valuable fuel resource. It created the bulk of the storage problems we face today. And it put the U.S. behind other countries in the expanded use of nuclear industry.
However nuclear opponents don’t want to see any waste in South Carolina. Aiken native Kerry Ridgeway spoke in the public comment segment, saying federal officials still haven’t addressed health problems associated with nuclear plants.
We’re not convinced and what we really need… is if this stuff is truly safe, safe, safe, as we keep hearing, we need to know… where that information is coming from.
Ridgeway is a member of the Sierra Club. He was one of many anti-nuclear speakers in the audience, who frequently expressed their distrust of nuclear power in general.
However, Commission Chair Brent Scowcroft said that, although he sympathized with their arguments, this wasn’t the time to air them.
Scowcroft is a former national security advisor under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
However, environmentalist Tom Clements of the groups Friends of the Earth questioned whether the Commission was even reaching out enough to those who live near the SRS facility.
The United States does not currently reprocess commercial nuclear fuel. Clements said he worried that any waste sent to the SRS for reprocessing would remain on the site, creating a de facto dumping ground.