Credit the unified efforts of the state's congressional delegation and Gov. Nikki Haley for keeping federal funding for a nuclear fuel conversion plant at Savannah River Site on track - at least for a few more months.
The administration wants to pull the plug on the mixed oxide fuel project at SRS because of its expense. Doing so, however, would leave the state holding the bag on at least 13 tons of weapons grade plutonium. The "cold standby" plan for the MOX facility further emphasizes the administration's unwillingness to take the nation's nuclear issues seriously.
For SRS that could be just more bad news. Designed as a production facility, SRS is in danger of becoming the de facto dump for defense-related nuclear waste. Already there is a massive volume of high-level waste at the site from its bomb-making days during the Cold War.
Some of that material has been stabilized in preparation for storage in a permanent repository - but with no place to go, since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission arbitrarily shut down the Yucca Mountain project in 2013. Apparently, the administration has something similar in mind for the MOX facility.
The MOX fuel conversion plant would enable SRS to turn some of the nation's deadliest defense waste into something usable - fuel for commercial reactors to produce electricity. That role was determined as part of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty negotiated with the Russians during the Clinton administration.
But this White House wants to deal with nuclear waste in some less costly, though yet unspecified manner. So far, South Carolina's concerted efforts have kept the project going at least until Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
The state's willingness to take the federal government to court over nuclear waste issues - and its winning record - is instrumental in that effort. So is the continued opposition of a local citizens advisory group that declined to endorse a federal plan last year to put commercial reactor waste at SRS.
The state, and Aiken County, took on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the termination of the long-standing waste disposal project at Yucca Mountain, Nev., and won.
But there's still no clear exit plan for nuclear waste at SRS. And that's one reason why the continued attention of the state's elected leadership is vital to counter ongoing federal pressure to make SRS a dump for high-level nuclear waste.
The state got welcome news on the waste front last week when the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized an additional $145 million for the MOX project, making the point that the funding was not to be used for the DOE's "cold standby" plan. The committee's action underscores the ongoing support from Congress for this project.
But as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., observed Thursday: "The Obama administration refuses to face the reality there is no viable alternative to MOX."
That's why unrelenting efforts are essential to maintain SRS as an operating production facility, and not a storage dump. Removal of the MOX mission would be another step toward the waste storage alternative.
That's not what South Carolina signed up for when it supported the expanded mission to produce fuel from plutonium at SRS.
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