Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– Efforts to cleanup the millions of gallons of nuclear waste stored in aging tanks at the Savannah River Site were given a boost today when the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Fritz Hollings (D-SC) to strip the cleanup provision from the defense authorization bill.
The vote was 48-48. To pass, the Cantwell-Hollings amendment needed a majority vote.
Under the provision, accelerated cleanup efforts to remove the more than 37 million gallons of liquid waste at the Site, which have been on hold for almost a year, would be allowed to again move forward. Ninety-nine percent of the waste would be removed from the tanks and turned into glass logs for eventual shipment to the permanent long-term storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Some residual waste, less than two inches deep, will remain in the tank and be mixed with concrete and grout. Removal of this material is impractical and poses dangers to worker safety. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) would be given “veto” power over residual waste left in the tank and would determine when the tank is clean enough to be closed.
“This is a big day for environmental cleanup in South Carolina,” said Graham. “The agreement between the state and the Department of Energy, now approved by the U.S. Senate, ensures the tanks will be cleaned up in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective manner.”
“Because of this agreement, we’re looking to do it 23 years ahead of schedule and at a cost savings to the taxpayer of almost $16 billion,” said Graham. “It is a good plan for the Site, state, and the nation.”
Graham noted the cleanup provision was supported by Governor Mark Sanford, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), Attorney General Henry McMaster, Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives David Wilkins, Democrats and Republicans in the Aiken County legislative delegation, the mayor of Aiken, the chairman of the Aiken County Council, the mayor of Jackson, the SRS Retiree Association, and local Chambers of Commerce.
“The cleanup efforts at the Site have been at a virtual standstill,” said Graham. “It’s long past time we get the cleanup efforts moving forward again to protect our environment. Every day we delay just increases the risk to the local community and the Savannah River that these tanks, some of them fifty years old, will leak and create even greater problems down the road.”
“I’m very pleased the Governor and state officials came together to allow the site to be cleaned up decades earlier than expected,” said Graham. “Governor Sanford deserves much credit for allowing new ideas that make environmental and economic sense to become reality in spite of special interest demagoguery. He is a thoughtful and courageous political leader.”
After the Senate gives final approval to the defense authorization bill it will go to conference with the House of Representatives.
“I will continue to fight in the House-Senate conference to ensure this provision becomes law,” said Graham. “We’ve come too far in our efforts to clean up the Site, using good science and sound economics, to be deterred by special interest politics.”