of radioactive waste at South Carolina landfill doubles
December 17, 2003
The most radioactive
type of waste generally allowed at a South Carolina landfill nearly doubled
last year, according to statistics provided by Chem-Nuclear Systems. LLC.,
the site's operator
That means it will
take hundreds of years longer for much of the radioactive materials to
break down than the more lightly contaminated atomic garbage usually buried
at the Barnwell County landfill, state regulators say.
Radioactive waste officials with South Carolina's environmental agency,
says the nuclear refuse is packaged well enough to prevent contamination
of the surrounding environment.
But environmentalists say the packaging can't last forever- and the waste
shipments are part of a trend of bringing more dangerous atomic garbage
to the state for disposal at Barnwell.
"We are becoming a graveyard for whole nuclear vessels," Sierra
Club member Susan Corbett said.
South Carolina's low-level radioactive waste dump, the only one of its
kind in the nation, has in the past six years begun taking used nuclear
reactors and parts from atomic power plants.
Each shipment can bring in millions of dollars in fees for the state and
Chem-Nuclear to split. But this material, while still low-level nuclear
waste, is generally more radioactive than hospital gowns, cleaning rags
and other slightly contaminated material also buried at the landfill.
Since 1997, electric utilities have shipped four huge nuclear reactors
to the 235 acre site, and two more are on the way. The shipments are occurring
as Chem-Nuclear is seeking permission from the state to put more low-level
waste in the landfill before it closes to the nation in 2008.
From 2002 to 2003, the most radioactive type of low level waste allowed
at the landfill- called Class C waste- rose from 10,500 cubic feet to
more than 19,000 cubic feet, according to Chem-Nuclear figures.
That's about 30 percent of the total low-level nuclear waste dumped at
Barnwell in 2003, according to Chem-Nuclear.
About five years ago, the percentage of more radioactive Class C waste
going to Barnwell was about 4 percent, or about 9,700 cubic feet, the
Chem-Nuclear spokeswoman Deborah Ogilvie said the company is getting a
higher percentage of the most radioactive Class C low-level waste because
of competition for the least radioactive Class A waste.
Inc., located in Utah, is offering lower prices to take the least radioactive
waste, said Ogilvie and power company representatives. As a result, companies
such as Duke Energy, SCE&G and Progress Energy, are sending their
least contaminated radioactive waste to Envirocare's waste dump in Utah.
The price difference was unavailable.
In many cases, contamination on use nuclear reactors and other types of
more radioactive Class C waste will take up to 500 years or more to decay,
according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The lightly contaminated Class A waste takes about 100 years to decay.
The 235-acre facility
occupies property owned by the State of South Carolina and leased to Chem-Nuclear
Systems. The Barnwell Waste Management Facility operates under the authority
of Radioactive Material License 097 issued by the South Carolina Department
of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Since the disposal facility
began operation in 1971, about 28 million cubic feet or 90% of the available
disposal volume has been used.