Congress needs pressure to clean up nuclear waste

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Congress needs pressure to clean up nuclear waste

Published Tuesday, January 8, 2013   |  564 Words  |  

State and congressional leaders must push harder for the U.S. Department of Energy to clean up toxic wastes at the Savannah River Site.

A key processing plant to help get that done is almost four years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

But the Department of Energy and Congress cannot quit now.

Even though the salt-waste processing plant is only 65 percent complete and might not open until 2018, it must remain a top priority at the 310-square-mile federal nuclear weapons complex near Aiken. The plant is needed to clean up 47 tanks filled with high-level nuclear waste. The aging tanks are prone to leaks.

Clean-up at the Savannah River Site is urgent to Beaufort County residents because the site is on the Savannah River, the source of much of the drinking water in the area.

Even if the plant's cost --originally estimated at $400 million -- goes higher than current estimate of $1.3 billion, so be it. It offers a concrete solution to a dire problem, and when it comes to cleaning up the atomic waste of America's Cold War, few alternatives offer such hope.

Cost-overruns are not nearly as catastrophic as other bad news on nuclear waste disposal.

It was much worse when President Barack Obama foolishly terminated the proposed Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste nationwide. It also is worse to hear the Savannah River Site mentioned as a possible place to store highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel from the nation's nuclear reactors.

Cost-overruns and delayed delivery are commonplace in the long slog that has turned into the nation's greatest environmental challenge: storing nuclear waste and cleaning up sites like the Savannah River Site.

It is not quick, and it is not cheap. And Congress must stay the course.

Newly appointed U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of Charleston needs to quickly get up to speed on the financial and environmental needs of the Savannah River Site.

The issue should be addressed by candidates to take his place in the House 1st District, which includes Beaufort County.

Job one is to keep the money flowing.

But it also is important to know who is accountable for the delays, which are attributed to design changes.

The public deserves to know whether the design is reliable and how these delays impact other legal obligations the Department of Energy might have with the Environmental Protection Agency and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The overall ability of the Department of Energy to manage such expensive and complex projects needs to be reviewed.

But nothing should divert the tight focus needed by the Department of Energy to get the salt-waste processing plant up and running at SRS.

Citizens should tell members of Congress that it is important to them.

Citizens also can address concerns to the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board, which is scheduled to meet from 1 to
5 p.m. Jan. 28 and 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Double Tree hotel, 2651 Perimeter Parkway, Augusta, Ga.

The federal government created the dangerous situation at the Savannah River Site, and it cannot be allowed to falter in cleaning up the mess.