Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday she is not yet willing to support bringing in more nuclear waste to the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken County, unless the federal governments acts on the waste that is already there.
The governor’s comments came as she toured the site with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The Energy Department is considering whether to process spent German reactor fuel at the former nuclear weapons station.
Moniz told reporters Monday that the U.S. has accepted spent fuel for years from research reactors in various countries that use American uranium. He also said it’s important to secure old nuclear waste so it doesn’t fall in the wrong hands through proliferation.
“President Obama has said that nuclear terrorism is the ultimate threat,” Moniz said. “This site is central with unique capabilities and the unique workforce in terms of addressing the consolidation (and) disposition of nuclear weapons material.”
But Haley said she would prefer that federal officials dispose of waste already stored at the site for decades, noting that the Obama Administration shuttered the Yucca Mountain repository that would have held the waste currently in South Carolina.
“Do we, at this point, continue to take on now German waste when there is no final disposition, when there is no endgame, when the first promise hasn’t been made?” she said.
Haley’s Democratic opponent in November’s governor’s race, State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, has previously sent a letter to Moniz requesting he not allow the German waste transfer. “and for the sake of the local families and businesses, for the sake of our state, the proposal should not move forward,” Sheheen wrote.
“Until we have made headway in dealing with the 37 million gallons of waste that we currently have at the SRS, we should not take on this burden from other countries,” he added. “Our focus must remain on cleaning up the tanks at SRS remaining from its time producing plutonium.”
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has previously threatened to fine the Energy Department up to $100 million each year for the delays in cleaning up its nuclear waste at the site.
Haley and Moniz were accompanied by several members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, and Congressman Joe Wilson. The delegation, led by Graham, has gotten language into both the House and Senate budgets that would continue to fund an experimental nuclear fuel project at SRS.
The Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility is supposed to eventually convert weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel, but the project is over-budget and years behind schedule. The White House, acting on concerns by both budget watchdogs and anti-nuclear groups, moved this spring to place the project on cold-standby for a year. The move would halt construction as the Energy Department considers alternative ways to dispose of the plutonium.
South Carolina officials sued, worried about the loss of roughly 1,800 jobs at the site. The lawsuit argued the Energy Department lacked the authority to shift the project’s status without congressional approval. Graham said the lawsuit was dropped in May after Moniz promised construction would continue through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Graham told reporters Monday that the American government agreed to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium as part of an agreement with Russia. He said the MOX project is the most viable option for doing that.
“There is no cheaper alternative to MOX and now is not the time to break an agreement with the Russians,” he said.
The current federal budget year ends in September.