Gov. Nikki Haley's forceful opposition to more toxic waste in South Carolina is well founded and much appreciated.
A private operator wants the state to undo a hard-fought compact reached long ago to stem the tide of nuclear waste brought into South Carolina.
Haley's stand is consistent with long-established policy. She correctly called the new proposal a "huge step backward."
"We don't sell our soul for jobs and money," Haley said last week. "I'm not willing to go in and take in nuclear waste that our kids and grandkids are going to have to deal with."
The 235-acre Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility opened in 1971. Tons of radioactive trash from 39 states was buried there before South Carolina lawmakers started to push back about three decades later. It holds 28 million cubic feet of material that leaks radiation, and now the Utah-based company that operates the site wants to bring in material that is more highly contaminated from more states.
On the face of it, the proposal is absurd.
But EnergySolutions, operating in Barnwell as Chem-Nuclear, started a public relations campaign to undo the Atlantic Compact limitations put in place in 2000 under Gov. Jim Hodges after years of work. The compact was agreed to by the state, Chem Nuclear and Barnwell leadership. As a result, the landfill was closed in 2008 to all states except South Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Haley's strong stand reflects the resolve it will take to keep South Carolina from being the nation's nuclear dumping ground.
"I don't know how many times we have to fight this battle," Hodges told the Aiken Standard. "In my legislative career, which spanned from 1986 to 1999 and four years as governor, we dealt with this issue three or four times. We finally reached a long-term solution."
EnergySolutions argues it must bring in higher-level waste from around the country to help pay for environmental management of the site.
"Using a pro-environmental argument for taking higher-level waste to pay for environmental degradation that's taken place there over time -- that's pretty unique and creative," Hodges said.
Thankfully, Haley is not falling for it, and neither should the state legislature.
South Carolina has borne well more than its share of the nation's nuclear-waste problem. Besides the Barnwell County site, tons of nuclear waste remains at the Savannah River Site, a Cold War nuclear weapons producer near Aiken. That problem was made worse when the Obama administration negligently halted work on a national nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Utah.
When Hodges was governor, he threatened to lie in the road to halt tons of plutonium being trucked to the Savannah River Site. A federal court stopped that specter, but the point was clear.
Haley's stand against the new Barnwell scheme honors the past and serves as a model that will doubtless be needed in the future.