South Carolina leaders may sue if Yucca waste dump plan is ditched
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford accused the president of playing politics with nuclear waste Tuesday, urging the Obama administration to follow through on plans to send thousands of tons of radioactive material to Nevada and urging legal action if it does not.
Sanford, surrounded by state, local and federal officials, accused the Obama administration of allowing “old-style Chicago politics” to dictate the fate of a long-planned nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The governor said the president was trying to protect Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s seat while ripping off companies in South Carolina that have paid $1.2 billion to create the dump.
A Reid spokesman denied the charge, but the Republican governor called Obama’s plan “a detour from basically a 25-year compact based on simple old-style Chicago politics that are the antithesis of the change that he himself had promised” during his campaign.
“This issue is too big to be driven by partisan politics in Washington, D.C.,” Sanford said.
The proposed site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas has been targeted for 20 years to house the nation’s high level nuclear waste.
As a candidate, Obama promised to close the facility, and his latest budget calls for eliminating funding for the site. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said Yucca Mountain is not an option and his department will withdraw its license application by the end of this month, essentially nixing the project as a commission studies where the waste should go.
“As we move to expand nuclear power, the President is fully committed to ensuring that the nation meets our long term storage obligations for nuclear waste,” Moira Mack, a White House spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
For now, high-level nuclear waste is stored at 80 sites around the nation, typically at nuclear power plants or places such as the federal Savannah River Site in Aiken County, where more than 3,600 tons of nuclear waste is stored. County officials there plan to discuss litigation themselves, said Councilman Chuck Smith.
“We’d hope the administration would re-look at this issue, but we don’t think they will and so we’re certainly trying identify what our alternatives are from a legal standpoint,” he said.
State Attorney General Henry McMaster said he is working on the legal questions. He said that includes talking with attorneys general in other states as well as the utility industry and nuclear industry legal experts.
The issue has been swirling for years here and in Nevada, where political careers can be lost based support of Yucca Mountain.
Sanford said the plans for Yucca Mountain span decades and numerous administrations and that $10 billion has spent on the underground site. “I mean, I think we all get it that Harry Reid is in a tough race out in Nevada and giving him this would give him a win in a tough race in Nevada but it would come at great expense to the rest of us as Americans,” he said.
Jon Summers, communications director for Reid, said the senator consistently has opposed Yucca and the only reason that location was chosen was because Nevada lacked clout in Washington 25 years ago. “We now have an administration that is listening to Senator Reid and the people of Nevada,” Summers said.
“It’s interesting that the only people that are complaining about this are Republicans,” he said, noting they’re “the only people that want to bring nuclear waste to Nevada.”
In December the federal Government Accountability Office said it is cheaper to store nuclear waste in the short term in concrete casks at the nation’s nuclear power plants but that that method would be more costly over time.
The report said that approach would cost up to $34 billion during the next 100 years while the Yucca Mountain facility would cost at least $41 billion. It noted costs would rise when that waste has to be repackaged in the next century or a permanent repository is opened.