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Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 1:02pm

Group Frets Over Nuclear Waste

Business and community leaders in the Augusta area say they fear the Savannah River Site may become a dump for nuclear waste on a long-term basis. Their comments come a few months after the Obama administration announced it was scrapping plans for a proposed federal site, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, to permanently store the waste.

Members of the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization say SRS, a massive federal entity that once produced nuclear fuel for weapons, would itself become a "defacto permanent waste site" that might harm the area's reputation and make it difficult to recruit industry.

Thousands of canisters stored at SRS hold nuclear waste from the Cold War era. Thousands more will be produced as workers there continue to stabilize remaining waste at the site.

The community organization says government officials in the region should consider a strategy to deal with the waste. The options, they said, include possibly seeking federal approval for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, a controversial idea. Supporters say it would be an effective way to reduce waste. Opponents worry that reprocessed fuel is largely untested, too expensive and -- with fuel potentially coming from other sites and nuclear reactors -- would actually bring more waste to the site.

Supporters of Yucca Mountain have said that deep geological disposal is the safest way to store the waste.

The decision to end most funding to study Yucca Mountain, though, follows long-term opposition from residents and government officials from Nevada -- most notably the powerful Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It means that both federal nuclear sites and commercial nuclear power plants will largely continue to store waste at their respective facilities in numerous locations across the country.

The Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization, meanwhile, has been seeking federal approval to develop an energy park at the site, which could eventually include reprocessing activities. The plan faced delays after environmental groups accused the organization and the federal government of moving along with plans without enough notice or input from the community.

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