National Defense Authorization for Fiscal Year 2005

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: May 20, 2004
Location: Washington DC


Mr. GRAHAM of South Carolina. Mr. President, I appreciate Senator Allard's comments. I will try to explain this amendment the best I can and as briefly as I can.

Several States played a very key role in winning the cold war by making sure we had a strong and effective nuclear deterrent. South Carolina is one of them, as are Idaho and Washington. They are States that have cold-war legacy materials.

As Senator Allard suggested, the Federal Government has been working with these sites for decades now. We spent billions of dollars-billions and billions and billions of dollars-to clean up the cold-war legacy that exists at the Savannah River site and other sites. To be honest with you, we have spent a lot of money and have done very little cleanup. From a taxpayer point of view, from an environmental point of view, the longer you put this off, the more it costs, and the more damage that can be done.

I have an amendment that would allow $350 million that has been put on the table by the Department of Energy to accelerate cleanup-$350 million has been put on the table in, I think, a very creative fashion to accelerate cleanup at these sites, putting new money on the table.

Here is a little history about what has gone on in terms of how DOE and the sites have been dealing with each other. There are 50-plus tanks of high-level waste in South Carolina as a direct result of winning the cold war, cold war legacy materials. The State of Washington has certainly done its share in helping win the cold war. They have a waste tank problem. Idaho has waste. These three States have a problem. It is now time to create an environment to fix the problem for each State.

Two years ago the State of Idaho entered into a cleanup agreement with the Department of Energy, setting standards that the State of Idaho would agree to help remediate the environment and clean up the sites in Idaho so that we could move forward to have a new day in Idaho.

Washington has been negotiating with the Department of Energy to come up with acceptable standards for cleanup of the waste in tanks and other areas, and there are ongoing negotiations.

South Carolina, for over a year, has been negotiating with the Department of Energy about how to clean up 51 tanks that contain high-level nuclear waste. People in South Carolina want the waste cleaned up. They want it done in an environmentally sound manner, and people in South Carolina want it done sooner rather than later. They are conscious of the cost to the taxpayer.

All three States at some stage have negotiated with the Department of Energy about waste in their particular States and how they can find agreement between the Department of Energy and the State to remediate the site.

I am here to say, thankfully, that the Department of Energy and the State regulators in South Carolina have come up with a plan that will allow these 51 tanks, 2 of which have already been cleaned up, to be cleaned up and to close them, that is environmentally sound, in my opinion.

But it is just not my opinion. The people responsible for the groundwater and the environmental safety of South Carolina, in conjunction with the Governor's office and the Department of Energy, have come up with an agreement to allow these tanks to be closed. The tanks will be cleaned up in a manner that will save $16 billion compared to the old plan, and it will allow the tanks to be closed up 23 years ahead of schedule.

The issue is what is environmentally sound cleanup for the State of South Carolina and any other State that has this legacy material. No. 1, no State should be forced to accept standards that they find unacceptable for the State in terms of their environmental needs. The amendment I have authored and that is part of the base Defense authorization bill ratifies the agreement that South Carolina has achieved with the Department of Energy. Under that agreement, my State regulators tell me that the permitting process of how you close up a tank and when you close up a tank and when a tank can be closed up is a collaborative process between the State and the Department of Energy. They feel they are protected. They have reached an agreement that the last 1.5 inches of waste that is in the bottom of these rather large tanks can be environmentally remediated in a manner safe for South Carolina that would prevent people from unnecessarily risking their lives to go get that last inch and a half and save $16 billion.

What does it mean? It means that some things that were going to go to Yucca Mountain don't have to go because to send them to Yucca Mountain is not environmentally necessary and it is not financially sensible. I hope other States can find a way to get there. I know Washington is talking. I know Idaho had an agreement 2 years ago. All I am asking is that South Carolina be allowed to execute this agreement that is good for South Carolina and the Nation and will move forward and clean up in a sound manner.

The amendment I am offering today doesn't deal with that issue. It deals with the idea that the $350 million to clean up sites in Washington and Idaho, that the money due to Washington and Idaho shall be spent on cleanup, that the Department of Energy cannot require either one of those States to enter into an agreement to get this cleanup money like we have in South Carolina.

My goal has been to do two things: that my State could reach a sound agreement with the Department of Energy to get it ratified for the best interests of South Carolina-and the Nation-and not do anything in South Carolina that is going to harm any other State's ability to negotiate on their terms and to reach an agreement that is sound for their State, and not to change any standards of what would leave South Carolina going to Yucca Mountain or any other repository. So this language requires the Department of Energy to spend money to treat the waste in South Carolina, Idaho, and Washington. It also allows the agreement to be financed in South Carolina.

I know there is some disagreement on this issue. I welcome the debate. That is what the Senate is all about, having two sides of every story. But this is not something we just came into lightly; this is something that has been going on between the Department of Energy and South Carolina for a very long time. Similar processes are going on now in Idaho and Washington.

I am asking this body to join with me to make sure that the Department of Energy spends the money to treat the waste in these three sites, and that we not bind any site by the agreement in South Carolina but we allow the agreement between South Carolina and the Department of Energy to be ratified. Not only is it good for my State, it is good for this Nation if we can clean up these tanks in an environmentally sound manner 23 years ahead of schedule and save $16 billion. That is my hope.

As to what is left behind, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has looked at the 1.5 inches of material left in the bottom of the tank and has classified it as waste incidental to reprocessing, which is a separate category from high-level waste. The people in South Carolina who regulate our environment and have an obligation to protect the State's groundwater and other environmental obligations have said that this waste that is left can be dealt with in a sound manner, and to get the 1.5 inches totally out would risk people's lives and would take unnecessary time and expense, and that we are going to secure these tanks in a way over which South Carolina would have control.

I didn't come to Washington to tell my State it is not a player in controlling its waste. I hope Washington will allow us who have these sites to work in a sound manner for the benefit of the taxpayers in the State and the Nation and for the environmental needs of our State.

That is what this is about. If we stay the old course and we never allow anybody to do anything other than the most extreme groups out there in terms of what this is all about-and there is politics in every issue, and there should be. There are some people who have an agenda that is not about the groundwater in South Carolina because they don't live there. Some of them are very well motivated, but some of them have an agenda to make cleaning up these sites very difficult, to the point that they don't care what it costs, and they are not trying to get a fair standard. They want to make it take as long as it takes and spend as much money as is necessary and send everything to Yucca Mountain and other repositories because they have an agenda that we don't want to produce any more nuclear power and run out of places to store fuel rods.

I don't want to be part of that agenda. I want to be a part of an agenda that allows each State that has these waste materials to be able to control their destiny, do it in a way that is safe for the State and makes sense for the Nation. That is exactly what we have accomplished.

Idaho and Washington have tried to do the same thing we are doing. They have tried to work with the Department of Energy to get an agreement. We have been successful. I will never, as a Senator, leverage one of my sister States here to have to agree to something to which they don't want to agree. That is not my goal.

I hope the Senate and the Congress will allow an agreement that has been negotiated to its full term to be approved and to help South Carolina save some money. I am ready to agree on a small time agreement, a large one, or whatever time agreement we can have on this amendment, and have a vote.

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