The bipartisan support of nuclear power expressed last week by Rep. James Clyburn and Sen. Lindsey Graham should be an indication of real movement toward a new national energy policy. In comments at a Charleston conference, both acknowledged the state's long background in nuclear power.
The state also has a long background in nuclear waste disposal, and any advance for more nuclear power production will require even more progress on waste management. Federal efforts toward safe, secure waste disposal continue to face obstruction in Congress.
S.C.'s Savannah River Site has long served as a "temporary" disposal site for high-level radioactive waste. More recently it has added tons of weapons-grade plutonium to be reprocessed for nuclear power generation. That will create additional waste by-products to be managed on site.
The continued failure of the federal government to provide a permanent repository for nuclear waste will effectively make the SRS a permanent place for disposal. That can't be allowed to happen.
The Energy Department recently concluded that waste storage needs for existing nuclear power generation will cost $96.2 billion more than anticipated, in part because of the inability to advance the Yucca Mountain (Nev.) disposal site in a timely manner. A waste solution won't come cheaply.
The most effective opponent to that project, which will provide permanent storage at a remote desert location, has been Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Sen. Reid has fought the project at every turn, and his obstructionism has been made more effective by his leadership role in the Senate.
The apparent energy accord between Rep. Clyburn, the third-ranking member of the House majority, and Sen. Graham, the state's senior senator, reflects the growing recognition that nuclear power must be part of any domestic energy solution that limits the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
A meaningful plan also will recognize that nuclear power creates nuclear waste, and will accommodate those by-products as part of the national energy solution. Increasing production capacity for nuclear power has to be accompanied by broad congressional support for the responsible management of nuclear waste.