Any failure to create a sustainable future for the Savannah River Site has to first rest with President Barack Obama playing politics and the unclear vision set by the federal government.
No concrete plan seems to exist for the site in light of Obama’s decision to close Yucca Mountain in Nevada, as well as his support of essentially defunding the site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication facility, or MOX program.
The move to close Yucca Mountain represented an almost undeniable power play by Obama, who has been heavily criticized for abandoning the idea of a nuclear repository at the site in Nevada. Many understandably saw it as move to appease his ally Harry Reid, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Nevada who serves as Senate major leader, and to carry the state for the Democratic Party in the presidential election.
With Yucca Mountain closed, SRS has seemingly become the de-facto dumping ground for nuclear waste that would otherwise have ended up at the site located near Las Vegas.
Is Yucca Mountain a case of Nevada residents having a “not in my backyard” mentality? Yes, of course.
Is the same true of South Carolina residents and the state’s resistance to storing waste? Clearly.
But, as we’ve said on this page before, Obama’s decision to scrap Yucca Mountain, and his push to put the MOX program on “cold standby” breaks an existing agreement that the federal governent had with South Carolina.
The site was never intended to be a permanent storage facility for waste. The federal government’s agreement with South Carolina stipulated that SRS would essentially only serve as a processing site for waste. The site’s mission would be to serve as an intake facility for waste with some intended for storage, and some intended to be reprocess – possibly as new fuel.
SRS wasn’t intended to be the be-all and end-all place for nuclear waste, but the perception seems to be growing that it is at this point.
The latest example is shipments of nuclear fuel from Germany that the Department of Energy, or DOE, which oversees SRS, is currently negotiating to bring to the site.
While U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated Monday that from a safety point of view, the material doesn’t represent much of a challenge, there are legitimate concerns about how long it will stay in South Carolina, particularly with all the waste already in storage at the site.
Both Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and her Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen have expressed concern about the increased shipments of foreign nuclear waste.
Sheheen – in a letter to Moniz – called the possible shipments “deeply troubling,” and that the proposal should “not move forward.”
Haley, at a press conference Monday, didn’t emphatically reject the idea of trying to stop the shipments from Germany, but did express deep concerns about continual waste shipments.
“ I’m extremely proud that the confidence has been placed in this site, whether it’s from the Germans, whether it’s from the DOE, that they have said this is the site that can handle it,” Haley said. “But it is my job and my duty on behalf of all of us to say – yes, but at what point, at what does it end and with what result are we looking for?”
It’s hard to tell how hard our leaders have pushed behind the scenes to make sure SRS has a viable future, while also ensuring South Carolina’s natural resources and its residents remain safe.
The rhetoric we heard at Monday’s press conference is the same we’ve been hearing for months. If the federal government hasn’t gotten the message yet, then it’s almost hopeless.
It’s up to local policymakers to continue to beat the proverbial drum to make sure there’s a sustainable and legitimate future for SRS and not simply a dumping ground.
Without it, our community’s economic vitality may be damaged beyond repair.