Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic challenger for governor, said Wednesday that he does not want German nuclear waste come to the Savannah River Nuclear Site and would like Washington, D.C., to fulfill other promises that could bring more jobs to South Carolina.
Speaking after a visit to Aiken with conservationists, Sheheen said he was taking a stand like the state’s last Democratic governor, Jim Hodges, who threatened to lay on roads to stop new nuclear waste from coming into South Carolina.
“We can’t allow the same mistakes to be made again,” the state senator from Camden said. “We’ll all will be dead and those radioactive German spheres will be still be here.”
The future of the 10,000-employee Savannah River Site, which produced nuclear material for weapons and now is working on cleanup from that work, has joined the governor’s race.
Sheheen is trying to show his links to environmental issues that won the endorsement from the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s camp said she has fought to clean up the 310-square-mile site since taking office, including challenging leadership in Washington, D.C.
A decision about accepting the fuel spheres from German nuclear plants is at least a year away, SRS spokesman Jim Giusti said. A test of using non-radioactive material as well as public comments are under way. SRS would extract highly enriched uranium for nuclear fuel from the spheres and store the remainder if the project goes through, Giusti said
Sheheen said the U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the site, should work on new technologies, such as hydrogen, and move forward with a plan to turn weapons-grade material into fuel for nuclear plants. He said federal officials also should keep their commitment to open a nuclear-waste facility in Nevada so South Carolina can remove the hazardous material.
Sheheen said the state cannot always control Washington, D.C., or global nuclear-waste policy, but, “Sometimes the world intrudes and you have to react.”
Haley’s office said “no one has fought harder to get the federal government to live up to their promise to remove the nuclear waste from SRS.”
She has asked President Obama’s energy secretaries personally to remove the waste, her spokesman Doug Mayer said.
“While we certainly welcome Sen. Sheheen to this important conservation about protecting our state from federal inaction and nuclear waste, this is something the governor has been fighting to get done from the moment she stepped into office,” Mayer said.
The state Department Health and Environmental Control sent a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz last month threatening the federal agency with $193 million in fines for pushing back deadlines to remove radioactive liquid waste.
“These delays will not be tolerated by the State of South Carolina.” DHEC director Catherine Templeton wrote in a June 16 letter to Moniz. “The 37 million gallons of highly radioactive and toxic waste, stored in aging and degrading tanks at SRS, is the single largest environmental threat in South Carolina.”