Saturday, May 17, 2008

S.C. officials watch nuclear case

Foreign waste may be allowed at dump

By Sammy Fretwell - McClatchy Newspapers

Nuclear waste officials are closely watching a federal court case to see if it could allow for burial of foreign radioactive garbage at South Carolina's atomic refuse dump in Barnwell County.

Energy Solutions Inc., which operates landfills in South Carolina and Utah, insists it won't send Italian nuclear waste to the 37-year-old landfill west of Barnwell under a company plan to import waste to the United States.

But the company has challenged eight Western states in their attempt to block disposal of the foreign waste in Utah.

If Energy Solutions convinces the court that the Western states can't legally stop Italian waste shipments to Utah, it also might gain the right to use the S.C. landfill, experts say.

The Barnwell County dump, one of only three of its kind in the country, is governed by the same law that led the Western states to limit nuclear waste in Utah.

After years of rancorous debate, Barnwell County's landfill is scheduled to close July 1 to all states except South Carolina, Connecticut and New Jersey. The last thing South Carolina needs is foreign waste at the landfill, said Ben Johnson, who leads the Atlantic Compact, which oversees the S.C. dump.

"There are a couple of issues in that suit that if adopted by higher appellate courts, would definitely impact" the Barnwell County landfill, he said. "It would be a shame ... to have that site filled up with foreign waste and rendered useless for our own needs."

The Barnwell County landfill has been a source of tension in South Carolina since it opened in 1971. It has left a trail of groundwater pollution that, in some places, rivals that of the nearby Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex. Waste sent to the landfill comes largely from nuclear power plants.

Opponents of the S.C. landfill tried for years to shutter the facility until Gov. Jim Hodges brokered a deal in 2000 to limit access by mid-2008.

Johnson and Atlantic Compact Commissioner Jill Lipoti said Wednesday the Energy Solutions lawsuit can't be ignored. Lipoti, who represents New Jersey on the compact, said her state reserved space for decommissioned nuclear reactors as part of the 2000 law - and she expects that space to remain available.

"We don't want any action to change that," she said.

Energy Solutions' plan is to import about 1 million cubic feet of low-level nuclear waste from Italy through either Charleston or New Orleans.

The material then would be shipped to a processing plant in Tennessee, with leftover waste being hauled to Utah for disposal, the company has said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering an import license.

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