Nuclear landfill to set limits

A Utah nuclear services company has abandoned plans to keep its 36-year-old landfill near Barnwell open to the nation after next year.

Energy Solutions doesn't have the political support for a bill extending the life of the landfill past 2008 to every state in the country, company spokesman Tim Dangerfield said Wednesday.

"After understanding all the politics behind everything ... it was in our best interest not to do anything more,'' Dangerfield said.

For years, the site's operator has hired powerful lobbyists to persuade lawmakers they needed to extend a series of closure deadlines and keep the landfill open to the nation.

But state legislators changed their stance last spring after a coalition of environmental groups mounted a furious campaign. In March, a House committee voted 16-0 against a bill that would have kept the dump open to all states for another 15 years.

Although some legislators expected Energy Solutions to come back in 2008 with a similar bill, others said it wouldn't have been worth it.

"I don't think there's any chance the Senate would approve'' a bill to extend the deadline again, Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, said.

Some lawmakers say the company's chances of changing the Legislature's mind worsened after The State newspaper reported in August that radioactive tritium levels above a federal safe drinking water standard were tainting more than 30 wells at the landfill. At least a dozen House members have said they don't remember being provided those details about the leak during debate last spring.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board is expected to discuss the Chem-Nuclear landfill this morning at its monthly meeting.

The decision by Chem-Nuclear, a division of Energy Solutions, means utilities from every state except South Carolina, Connecticut and New Jersey must find other ways to dispose of low-level nuclear waste after July of next year. South Carolina and the two Northeastern states cut a deal in 2000 giving them exclusive rights to the dump site for commercial nuclear waste after 2008.

Other states probably would likely store low-level waste on- site, as they do with high-level nuclear waste. The Barnwell County landfill is the only one in the country that will accept the most potent forms of low-level nuclear waste from every state.

It also could mean Chem-Nuclear, a division of Energy Solutions, will scale back operations at the state-owned landfill it has operated since 1971.

The landfill has generated millions of dollars for education in South Carolina and Barnwell County, but critics said it is time to find other ways to fund schools.

"It was a nuclear addition; the withdrawal may be painful, but it had to happen,'' the Sierra Club's Bob Guild said. "We're pleased that Chem-Nuclear and its owner has acknowledged political reality.''