A new report released by an environmental group warns about an increase in radioactive materials at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken and Barnwell counties should the federal government decide to use it as a temporary location for high-level nuclear waste.
The report was released by the environmental group “Don’t Waste Aiken” last week. It was drafted in response to a U.S. Department of Energy “strategy document” from January that theorizes how to temporarily store spent commercial nuclear fuel that was originally supposed to be stored at the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada before the Obama Administration shut down the project in 2010. SRS is one of the likely candidates until a more permanent solution can be found.
One plan is to establish a “pilot” interim storage site at SRS to handle some of the leftover waste from 17 closed reactors and nuclear labs around the United States. The material could be kept at the Savannah River Site, which produced material for atomic bombs during the Cold War and is now a nuclear research and storage center.
“It’s important that, if people are going to make an informed decision as to whether they accept the responsibility…. they should understand the implications,” said Robert Alvarez, a former Energy Department senior policy advisor who wrote the report on behalf of the organization Don’t Waste Aiken.
Alvarez said the radioactivity of the site could eventually total 1 billion curies (a curie is used to measure the amount of radioactive decay per second). “It would basically more than double the amount of radioactivity in the high-level radioactive waste already at the Savannah River (Site),” he said.
However, Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness director Clint Wolfe said the report uses questionable numbers in an attempt to scare locals. Wolfe said each of the four active nuclear plants across South Carolina already contains several billion curies of radiation. Wolfe, a former nuclear industry executive, said the amount of curies at a site does not matter— it’s how that material is handled and stored.
Wolfe said the Savannah River Site has already had a similar amount of radioactive material stored on site in its history, before much of it was shipped to New Mexico. “(Environmental groups) are trying to generate an emotional response in people instead of looking at the facts,” Wolfe said, “Nuclear waste has not been a health hazard. It can be an environmental hazard if it’s not contained properly, but all the stuff they’re talking about… is in containers that are approved.”
The Department of Energy released a three-point plan for replacing Yucca Mountain in January. The plan calls for establishing an interim storage site by 2021 and a larger interim storage site by 2025. A permanent disposal ground would be available by 2048, according to the agency.