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Facing South

Will South Carolina Become the Nation's New Yucca Mountain?

Sue Sturgis

Earlier this year President Obama canceled
the federal government's plans to store high-level radioactive waste
from nuclear power plants and weapons facilities at the controversial
Yucca Mountain site in Nevada -- but now there are concerns that South
Carolina could become a permanent dumping ground for the dangerous

That state is home to the Savannah River Site,
a nuclear materials processing center along the Savannah River 25 miles
southeast of Augusta, Ga. Built during the 1950s to refine nuclear
material for weapons, the site no longer has any operating nuclear
reactors and is engaged in cleanup activities.

Given the demise
of Yucca Mountain, business leaders in South Carolina and Georgia are
expressing worries that high-level waste at the Savannah River Site may
now be left there permanently. Scientists have warned about potential environmental contamination from long-term storage of such highly radioactive waste in the Savannah River watershed.

This week the SRS Community Reuse Organization -- a nonprofit group working to diversify the region's economy and a supporter of the Yucca Mountain site -- released a report [pdf] calling for a special blue-ribbon panel to study options for disposing of the waste.

As the preface states:

government's about face on this critical issue leaves state and local
leaders with more questions than answers. Those responsible for public
safety, job creation, image enhancement and citizen confidence must now
lead in a new reality. They must come to terms with their community's
lingering -- perhaps permanent -- role as caretaker for the Nation's
highly radioactive waste.

As a region, we are now left wondering
what's next? How we will come together in unity to address a path
forward in the wake of this broken promise -- one that has implications
of the longest possible term and a potential chilling effect on the
region's future growth and prosperity?

The group's
report says that if and when a panel is assembled to plot a new
strategy for high-level nuclear waste storage, the Savannah River Site
region's leaders should get a "seat at the table."

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