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Friday, July 31, 2009 - 2:07am

Possible Mercury Storage at Savannah River Site Near Augusta Gets Opposition at Meeting

Federal officials say they are looking at the Savannah River Site near Augusta to store thousands of tons of elemental mercury. The U.S. Department of Energy spoke with members of the public on Thursday in what they term a scoping meeting.

About 25 people attended the meeting in North Augusta, South Carolina, which comes as federal law requires the U.S. to stop exporting mercury by 2013 and to store it. A handful of people -- both members of environmental groups and proponents of nuclear energy -- voiced their opinions about the plan, all of them opposing mercury storage at the site and essentially saying it would make the Savannah River Site a dumping ground.

"We don't want to see new missions being explored here that bring other neurotoxins and waste, and dumped here or handled here, or managed here," says Susan Corbett, chairwoman of the South Carolina Sierra Club. The Savannah River Site is located in South Carolina, along that state’s border with Georgia. It’s a major employer in the Augusta area.

Rick McLeod, the head of the Savannah River Site Community Re-use Organization (SRSCRO), also voiced opposition, saying the mercury storage would conflict with the site's procedures, in which dangerous chemicals and radioactive materials brought to the site would be used for a specific purpose and remain there only temporarily, such as plutonium being shipped to the site, being re-processed into fuel for nuclear reactors and then shipped out to power plants. SRSCO is currently seeking to lease land at the Savannah River Site to private companies for development of energy sources, likely including nuclear energy, and research.

The DOE is in the early stages of deciding where the mercury should be stored. Other sites under consideration are the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, the Idaho National Laboratory, the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada, the Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado, the Kansas City Plant in Missouri and Waste Control Specialists in Texas.

Mercury causes a developmental disabilities and other problems, often for children. It also harms fetal development. Mercury is used in a handful of plants that manufacture chlorine, although a congressional measure would ban that use. One of those plants is Olin Corporation on the Savannah River in Augusta.

Mercury is also produced in some recycling processes and in gold mining.

DOE officials will next review the potential environmental impact of mercury storage at each site.

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