Last Friday, in a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the governor of South Carolina refused to accept nuclear waste from Three Mile Island. Here he explains why.
As we analyze the questions that have been raised by the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident in Pennsylavia, we must not lose sight of the single most important policy decision that will determine the future of this industry. I am speaking of nuclear waste-the failure to close the nuclear cycle.
As the commercial nuclear industry expanded in the 1960s, South Carolina launched a major effort to develop a sophisticated capacity for handling nuclear waste. This initiative was matched by similar developments in other states.
Throughout the 1970s, our state maintained its commitment to a waste management program; however, these other states in the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South gradually withdrew from this effort. One by one, existing waste management facilities were closed, and plans for future sites were put off.
Since most of the nation's commercial nuclear facilities are located east of the Rocky Mountains, South Carolina eventually found itself in the unacceptable position where it is now receiving up to 90 percent of the "low level" commercial waste generated in the United States.
This situation was illustrated dramatically for the citizens of our state by the Pennsylvania nuclear accident. Within a week after the incident occurred, plans were underway to dispatch the first of what would have become a continuing convoy of trucks bringing waste to be buried in our state.
Preliminary estimates indicated that the disabled reactor would generate waste amounting to almost 50 percent of the total volume our state received in all of 1978.
It was for this reason that I wrote last week to the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission indicating that South Carolina would not accept any of the waste from the damaged Three Mile Island unit.
From a national perspective, Three Mile Island may appear to have been a unique incident in the history of the nuclear industry, but for South Carolinaians, it came as one more reminder of the fundamental problem of nuclear waste in our country.
My message to the NRC was simple: This is a national problem that requires a national solution.
The first decision that must be made involves the permanent disposal of "high-level" waste. The federal government, in consultation with state and local officials, must select a site and begin operation of a permanent disposal program. This site decision must be determined on the basis of facts relating to public health and environmental safety and not on the basis of least political resistance. Until that step has been taken , we cannot resolve the other aspects of the waste dilemma.
Second, until a permanent disposal program is operating, we must provide for the temporary storage of spent fuel assemblies from commercial reactors. To the maximum extent possible, this should be done at reactor sites to limit the transportation and handling of such waste. In the event it becomes necessary to store some of this waste away from reactor sites, we must have a national program based on regional temporary storage facilities.
Third, we must reestablish a network of regional sites for the burial of "low-level" nuclear waste. Every state generates this type of waste, and every state, or at least every region, should share in the responsibility for managing those wastes.
Fourth, South Carolina has over 20 million gallons of liquid "high-level" waste generated by the nation's nuclear-weapons program at its Savannah River plant. Large amounts of this waste are also in temporary storage at the weapons plant in Hanford, Wash. The federal government must proceed immediately to build facilities to transform that material into solid form so that it can be shipped to a permanent burial ground.
Finally, we have in South Carolina a facility to reprocess spent nuclear fuel so that it can be used to create more energy. I will support reprocessing if it is proven to be safe and the plutonium that is produced can be properly managed without the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation. However, we should not proceed with reprocessing until we have a permanent disposal program for the waste that this process will generate.
Resolving these and other issues will require an open, responsible dialogue among public officialsthe nuclear industry and the people. The dialogue must also include a discussion of the role that conservation and alternative energy sources can play in balancing our nation's mix of energy resources.
This is a dialogue in which South Carolina is willing to engage. The people of our state recognize the benefits that nuclear evergy has brought us; that it has provided us with a stable source of electrical power that has helped to attract industry and promote our economic development. We cannot afford to see this industry strangled by a failure to make the hard decisions necessary to close the nuclear-fuel cycle.
At the same time, our state alone cannot produce a solution to this national problem, and I believe it would be irresponsible for us to make it easy, by our acquiescence, for the nation to delay these decisions.
South Carolina can no longer be the path of least resistance in seeking the national answer to nuclear waste disposal.