South Carolina Court of Appeals Upholds Sierra Club Challenge to Barnwell Nuclear Waste Operations



Runs 10/10/14 through 10/17/14

(THEME UP AND UNDER) This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. Here is this week’s top headline:

  • South Carolina Court of Appeals Upholds Sierra Club Challenge to Barnwell Nuclear Waste Operations

At the end of the month, the owners of the Barnwell nuclear waste disposal site and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control must present their remedial plan to the South Carolina Court of Appeals for preventing radioactive tritium from seeping into groundwater and migrating away from the dump site.

The tritium levels in some of the monitoring wells located over one-half mile from the site are well above the Safe Drinking Water Act limits of 20,000 picocuries per liter. Despite the overwhelming evidence of migrating pollutants, Barnwell and the Department allowed rainwater to travel through unlined waste disposal trenches, some since operations began 43-years ago.

The Sierra Club challenged that practice first in 2004 when the operating license for Barnwell was up for renewal. The group challenged the inadequate design and operating practices of dumping nuclear waste in shallow unlined pits left open to rainfall. ChemNuclear and the Department promised that the dump would remain secure for hundreds of years. Despite the promises, it took a mere 20 years for the radioactive plume to reach the nearby Mary’s Branch Creek, which flows into the Savannah River.

The Club’s lawyers, Jimmy Chandler of the South Carolina Law Project, Amy Armstrong, of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, Midlands lawyer, Bob Guild, and the Club’s nuclear expert “exposed the lax practices and cover-ups by industry as well as the complacency of [the Department] in failing to correct the glaring deficiencies which allowed the contamination to continue.” The Club appealed the 2005 Administrative Law Court’s decision to re-license the site and urged covering the open burial sites.

Susan Corbett, the Club’s chapter chair, said, “Every nuclear waste site in this country has leaked and most are still leaking. It’s very difficult, using the shallow land burial method, to keep nuclear waste from getting into the groundwater. This is not benign or short-lived material. It includes highly radioactive nuclear power plant component wastes that include uranium and plutonium which may well follow the tritium into the groundwater in years to come.”

ChemNuclear is owned by Energy Solutions, a Utah-based nuclear waste disposal corporation. Energy Solutions is also the contractor who proposed to add organic kitty litter to the Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear waste as a form of waste treatment. At least one of the treated waste drums exploded at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in February, resulting in its closure.

Corbett added, “We can’t trust corporations or even our own government agencies to protect us. We as citizens have to be vigilant and make sure the rules are actually being followed and the best practices are being practiced.”


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