02 November 2007

US sites to store own low-level radioactive waste

S.C. Nuclear-Waste Landfill Is Closing

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Starting next summer, many power plants, hospitals, universities and companies in 36 states will be forced to store low-level radioactive waste on their own property because a South Carolina landfill is closing its doors to them.

The states have known for years that this day would come. But because of political opposition, environmental fears and cost concerns, most of them have done almost nothing to construct new landfills in the meantime.

At issue is the Barnwell County dump site, a 235-acre expanse that opened in 1971 close to the Georgia line. The equivalent of more than 40 tractor-trailers full of radioactive trash from 39 states was buried there each year before South Carolina lawmakers in 2000 ordered the place to scale back because they no longer wanted the state to be the nation's dumping ground.

As of July 1, the landfill will take waste only from South Carolina and the two states with which it formed a partnership, New Jersey and Connecticut.

State and industry officials say the not-in-my-backyard resistance will ironically lead to "temporary" storage sites in backyards across the nation.

"I'm concerned about it, that my hospitals in my neighborhood will have to store this stuff on site," said Rita Houskie, administrator for disposal of the waste in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Other states affected by the shutdown include California, New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas.

The danger, some officials say, is that storing the waste in potentially hundreds of locations across the country could allow radiation to escape.

While none of the trash could be used to make a nuclear bomb, some experts fear it could be stolen to make "dirty bombs," which use conventional explosives to scatter radioactive debris.

"As a matter of national security, health and safety, it makes good sense to ultimately dispose of this stuff and not just store it all over the country," said Rick Jacobi, a nuclear engineer and former general manager of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority.

"There will be hundreds, maybe thousands of them. People won't want to pay others to store the material. They'll find a closet or warehouse or a shed out back and stick it in there and see what happens."

The trash sent to Barnwell includes protective clothing and gloves, tools, cleaning rags, lab equipment, industrial measuring devices and equipment used to treat cancer patients. It does not include spent fuel from nuclear power plants. The waste is stored in steel containers that are put in concrete vaults and then buried in long trenches.

Most waste from hospitals, universities and power plants falls into the lowest-hazard class, which means it decays to nonradioactive levels within 100 years.

The closing of Barnwell will mean roughly 20,000 cubic feet of trash per year, or enough to fill six tractor-trailers, will be turned away.

Only two other landfills now exist nationwide for low-level nuclear waste.

One, in Clive, Utah, takes only the least hazardous trash, such as slightly contaminated clothing. It accepts waste from all states. The other landfill, in Richland, Wash., receives such material along with hotter waste that decays to non-hazardous levels within 500 years. But it accepts shipments from only 11 states, including Idaho, Nevada and Colorado.

Companies have had to store radioactive waste on their property before: The Barnwell site closed in the mid-1990s before reopening. And some companies store material on site now, sometimes waiting to amass enough to make it worthwhile financially to ship the stuff to a landfill.

"We're confident it can be stored safely based on the track record," said Jim Kennedy, senior project manager of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's low-level waste branch.

If hospitals and power plants are forced to hold on to their waste, it will go into specially designed warehouses. For power plants, that is generally an aboveground bunker with thick concrete walls. The waste must be secured, specially shielded and weathertight.

States had decades in which to build nuclear waste landfills. A 1980 federal law made each state responsible for disposing of non-military low-level waste generated within its borders and encouraged states to work together to develop regional disposal sites.

But those efforts have repeatedly run into resistance. Only one low-level landfill, the one in Utah, has opened in the past 30 years. In 2005, Nebraska was forced to pay $146 million for blocking construction of a landfill for its region.

Some environmentalists say that storing waste on a company site is actually better than shipping it. Power plants, they say, already have places to store highly radioactive spent fuel and have good security. Plus, most medical waste can simply be stored until its radioactivity subsides, after which it can safely be thrown away.

"The reality is there aren't any good choices for radioactive waste right now, so they might as well leave it on site rather than contaminate new sites and transport it across the country, where there could be vehicle accidents," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Maryland-based Nuclear Information and Resource Services.

Jacobi, the former Texas waste official, said he fears companies storing the waste on their own property will eventually forget about the hot trash, and it could mistakenly be sold as scrap or sent to smelters.

"These things get lost, accidentally recycled or could fall into the hands of the wrong kind of people," he said.

Rich Janati, who heads waste disposal for Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia, said radioactive devices, such as gauges used by companies to measure a material's density or moisture, are easily lost and tough to keep track of. Their size makes them "obviously easier for WMD-type activities and terrorist activities if they're not tracked properly," he said.

Inspections of stored waste will be the responsibility of either the NRC or state agencies. The extra workload should not be a problem, Janati said.

Storing the waste on site is just a temporary measure. As for longer-range solutions, the NRC is set to release a report this week on the pros and cons of various ideas. The possible solutions are said to include the creation of a national landfill and the opening of Energy Department dump sites.

Legislators Slam Door to Nuclear Waste Site

Written by Sammy Fretwell - The State
Friday, 06 April 2007

Panel's 16-0 vote effectively kills bill to keep Barnwell landfill open longer

By SAMMY FRETWELL - sfretwell@thestate.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

A Utah company's push to dump more nuclear waste in Barnwell County suffered a crippling defeat Wednesday that some legislators called historic in its message to the nation:

South Carolina wants out of the nuclear waste disposal business after three decades of owning a landfill for the country's radioactive garbage.

Wednesday's surprising 16-0 House committee vote effectively kills legislation to keep the landfill open to the country after 2008, although the landfill's operator could try other legislative means to accomplish its goal.

Energy Solutions of Utah, a rapidly expanding nuclear services company, could get help from lawmakers who could attach an amendment to another bill.

The company, which has hired 10 lobbyists through its Barnwell division, is expected to push similar legislation next year.

But lawmakers who voted against the landfill said the nation needs to find another place to bury low-level nuclear waste. The overwhelming vote by the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee underscores that belief, some said.

South Carolina has been taken for granted as a disposal site by other states, said Rep. David Umphlett, R-Berkeley.

The bill allowed power plants across the nation to continue using the site through 2023, instead of reserving the landfill for only South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut after next year.

"These other states in the United States need to get up off of their backsides and start doing what's right,"

said Umphlett, who initially supported keeping the site open.

"They want to stomp us in the ground and beat us up and say
'You bunch of country hicks.'

"I'm just getting tired of it."

The landfill is used as a disposal site mostly by nuclear power plants for low-level radioactive waste. Since 1971, it has taken about 28 million cubic feet of waste. Its closure would mean plants in most states would have to store some of their most potent nuclear waste on site. Past attempts in the Legislature to shutter the site have failed after intense lobbying by the landfill's operator and utilities. Energy Solutions, which last month took lawmakers on a bus tour of the landfill, issued a statement saying the legislation helped the state and county economies.

"We are of course disappointed with today's committee vote on what Energy Solutions, the utilities, Barnwell County and others consider a sensible and needed piece of legislation," the statement said.Wednesday's vote shocked people familiar with the 18-member House agriculture committee.

The panel, which hears most environmental bills, in recent years has been sympathetic to industries that sought law changes. But the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, an umbrella group for environmental organizations, intensely lobbied to close the dump to the nation. For many legislators, the decision hinged on South Carolina's obligations. Under a 2000 law, the Palmetto State agreed to reserve landfill space after 2008 for only New Jersey, Connecticut and South Carolina companies that generate nuclear waste.

Keeping the site open to everyone after 2008 could take up much of that space and create legal problems, many legislators said. "We've set the rules. The game is over,'' said Rep. Kenneth Hodges, D-Colleton. "The clock has expired."

The landfill has little more than 1 million cubic feet of space left; 800,000 has been committed to New Jersey and Connecticut and much of the rest to South Carolina. That's particularly precious space if South Carolina utilities add new nuclear power plants that would create more waste, some lawmakers said.

Rep. W.D. "Bill" Witherspoon, who sponsored the bill, abstained from voting. Another member was absent. Witherspoon , said the space question sank the bill.The dump opened as a disposal site for lightly contaminated radioactive material, such as hospital gloves and gowns. Today, it's the only commercial landfill in the U.S. that takes the most potent forms of low-level nuclear waste, such as old reactor parts.

If the landfill remains open to every state after 2008, the state "could be home to some 30 dead decommissioned nuclear reactors,'' the Sierra Club's Susan Corbett said of power plants that will close. Barnwell County's landfill has had two spills or leaks of tritium, records show. Environmental groups say the site is a long-term threat to Lowcountry drinking water. State officials say the site doesn't pose a health threat.

Barnwell-area leaders were disappointed and angry about Wednesday's vote. The landfill contributes more than $2 million a year to the county for schools and government services ­ and many local residents said they want the facility to remain open.

"This is an embarrassment," Barnwell-area industrial recruiter Danny Black heatedly told Witherspoon.

Black said the landfill has been unfairly characterized as a dump and Barnwell County must pay the price. The county has had difficulty recruiting industry because of what he called the negative image portrayed by the media and landfill opponents.

"How do you expect us to have industrial recruitment down there when we get this kind of negative response from our elected leaders and people that are supposed to be covering it in a not biased way?" Black told Witherspoon.

Witherspoon and Rep. Lonnie Hosey, a Barnwell Democrat who is not a member of the committee, said South Carolina must now consider how it will replace money lost from the landfill. Fees and other money from the dump contribute about $12 million to the state and county. . Environmentalists who worked to defeat the bill said the economic argument is poor. South Carolina has ample revenue growth and can make up for any lost money from the landfill, said Cary Chamblee, a lobbyist for the S.C. Sierra Club and the S.C. Wildlife Federation. "It could be made up very easily. It is a drop in the bucket.'' Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.

INSIDE BARNWELL Barnwell County's low-level nuclear waste dump will close to the nation as scheduled in 2008, a House committee agreed Wednesday.

WHY KEEP IT OPEN? Generates $12 million annually for the state and Barnwell County through site revenues

WHY CLOSE IT? Site has leaked tritium and has taken the nation's low-level nuclear waste for three decades

Don't Waste South Carolina's links:

Link Sierra Club of SC
Link Conservation Voters of SC
Link Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Link Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League
Link Carolina Peace Resource Center
Link Charleston Peace
Link Citizen Alert
Link Clear Water Action
Link Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroads of Asheville
Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroads is a grassroots group based in Asheville, NC. It focuses on the transport of radioactive materials and nuclear industries in the Southeast.
Link Conservation Law Foundation
Link Earth Force
Link Earth Rights
Link Earth Save
Link Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Link Friends of the Earth International
Link Green Nuclear Butterfly
Link GreenPeace
Link Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
Link Low Country Peace
Link Native Energy
Link Nuclear Control Institue
Link Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Link Nuclear Watch of New Mexico
Link Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
Link Oceana
Link Orion Grassroots Network
The Orion Grassroots Network is the fastest-growing gathering hub of environmental and community organizations in North America, now actively supporting 1026 organizations with several new member groups joining each week.
Link Orion Society
Link Physicians for Social Responsibility
Link Public Citizen
Link Rainforest Action Network
Link Safe Energy
Link Save Our Environment
Link Sierra Club
Link Snake River Alliance
Link South Carolina Green Party
Link South Carolina Progressive Network
Link Union of Concerned Scientists
Link Women's Action for New Directions

New Maps from Common Sense Campaign Show Likely Waste Routes to Savannah River Site

May 22 - Today 33 community-based groups nationwide teamed with Nuclear Information and Resource Service and the Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroads Campaign are releasing new maps showing the likely transport routes (road, rail and water) that high-level radioactive waste (irradiated or spent fuel) would take from nuclear power reactors to the federal Savannah River Site in South Carolina for reprocessing, if that location is chosen under the federal Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). Eleven sites are currently under consideration for GNEP; two in South Carolina. Implementation of GNEP would redirect the transportation of this waste, previously assumed to target the flawed and unsuitable Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

Part of a study by John Sticpewich entitled "A Study of the Problems With Transport and Reprocessing of Nuclear Waste in the Carolinas," the maps were generated using Department of Energy (DOE) data and the on-line DOE routing program, TRAGIS. "Credit analysts on Wall Street have suggested that moving the accumulated high-level waste from the reactor sites would make investment in new nuclear power more likely," said Sticpewich. "This report documents the huge tonnage of radioactive waste that must be dealt with, the very high costs of transporting it, and the potential for impact that such a move would have on hundreds of communities along the way." John Sticpewich did this work on behalf of the Common Sense at the Nuclear Crossroads Campaign based in Asheville, NC. The maps and his report are available at Maps of Waste Routes.

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