The existing NRC license failed to prevent extensive radioactive and hazardous pollution by the Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility over the last 50 years which threatens air quality, groundwater and surface water quality including the waters of Mill Creek which flows through the site and into the Congaree River;
Under the existing NRC license Westinghouse has failed to demonstrate the necessary corporate character or competence to comply with regulatory requirements. A history of spills, leaks, accidents and corporate malfeasance undermine assurance that Westinghouse will comply with future regulatory requirements under a new 40 year license;
Under the existing license the NRC has failed to exercise sufficient oversight to prevent and remedy pollution discharges and violations by Westinghouse;
Only through action by the local State authorities- SCDHEC- as recently as 2019, did Westinghouse disclose extensive radioactive and toxic contamination of groundwater at the site and sediments at the bottom of Mill Creek which flows to the Congaree River. Such sediment contamination includes radioactive Uranium and Technetium 99. The sources of such pollution remain unidentified and its extent and remediation remain incomplete. No new license should be approved until such historic pollution has been cleaned up and full corrective action to prevent future pollution has been implemented;
5. The NRC and Westinghouse have failed to comply with Environmental Justice regulatory requirements. While acknowledging that the Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Facility is sited in a predominately African American and low income residential community, with numerous additional sources of environmental hazard including an adjacent Superfund Hazardous Waste Site and the nearby Wateree coal-fired power plant, NRC and Westinghouse have failed to properly address the disproportionate and harmful impacts of future facility operations on the Environmental Justice (EJ) community or poverty area, including the cumulative and synergistic impacts of other sources. The NRC and Westinghouse have failed to properly assess the heightened impacts of facility pollution on subsistence hunting and fishing by members of the impoverished community in areas adjacent to the facility boundaries. Over the last 50 years of facility operations the NRC and Westinghouse have failed to effectively engage the local community to facilitate effective understanding of facility operations and impacts and effective public participation in facility regulation. Hopkins is designated by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as a medically underserved area (MUA) and medically underserved population (MUP). As such, it deserves better protection from additional health threats.
WFFF agreed to an Intensive Archaeological Survey, conducted late summer/early fall 2021, with final SHPO approval anticipated circa February 2022. The NRC staff anticipates publishing the final EIS in January 2022, and the Record of Decision in February 2022. An assessment about the license cannot be made without the results of the Intensive Archaeological Survey. The Pine Hill Indian Tribe is originally from the area. An important Native American cemetery site (Green Hill Mound), thought to be ancestral to the Pine Hill, that is presently not protected under the federal Native American Grave Protections and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) law is in close proximity to WFFF. It is an Ancestral, generational heirloom to the Pine Hill Tribe. As such, its significance is priceless. The Area of Potential Effect of the new license should be increased to include this archaeological site. No new license should be approved without the results of the SHPO approved Intensive Archaeological Survey incorporated into theEIS.
A historic African American cemetery, Denley Cemetery, thought to be potentially eligible to the National Register of Historic Places is located on the WFFF property. A test well has been installed in close proximity to the cemetery. Test wells should not be installed in such close proximity to significant archaeological resources.
Westinghouse Government Services, LLC, a duly registered company with the SC secretary of state, appears to be operating under the same roof as the Westinghouse fuel fabrication facility, where uranium rods are fabricated for foreign and domestic nuclear power plants. Westinghouse Government Services, previously known as WesDyne, produces specialized rods that are irradiated to produce tritium gas for nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission claims it does not regulate the facility and the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control says it has issued no permits to the facility and that waste goes to the fuel plant. It is unclear who is regulating the facility or what sort of contaminants it is generating. The tritium rod issue makes the Westinghouse plant a civilian-military “dual use” facility.
A 10-year license for the South Carolina atomic factory near Columbia would be dangerous. A 40-year license renewal as described in The State’s Sunday front-page story would be senseless. (“Federal study supports new 40-year license for Columbia nuclear plant”) Things change. Forty years ago, the phrase, “Google it,” would have been meaningless, and no one had a phone in their pocket. Forty years from now, it’s barely credible that a few nuclear reactors will remain. Perhaps there will be none at all. Setting aside the real environmental dangers of leaking nuclear waste, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommendation to renew the license for 40 years doesn’t make common sense.
Rooftop Solar Saved from the Brink in South Carolina
We WON a good-old-fashioned organizing victory against Dominion Energy South Carolina, a powerful investor owned utility (IOU) serving 750,000 electric customers from Columbia to Charleston. For all my fellow Sierrans fighting Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) who actively want to END rooftop solar in your state, take heart. Their “subsidization” arguments can be used against them.
In a state where community solar is nearly nonexistent, a solar victory at last! The April 28, 2021 announcement that the SC Public Service Commission (PSC) unanimously rejected Dominion’s filed tariff/fee structure was surprising given the state’s recent Energy Freedom Act of 2019 which was refashioned by monopoly utilities to ensure there was no cost shift from non-solar customers to rooftop solar customer generators. On its face, we in the pro-solar camp don’t want “subsidies” either, but in reality the over-reaching tariff was designed to not only cool the booming rooftop solar industry, but drive it away completely by pricing interconnection out of reach for many families, the majority of whom selected rooftop solar as a way of dealing with the disproportionately high bills we pay in S. Carolina. (Duke and Dominion rooftop customers enjoy a progressive one-to-one net metering rate that has benefited families since becoming law in 2014). Dominion had inadvertently included in previous testimony that the actual cost shift amounted to pennies per meter. With this disclosure, their true motivation for the new fees became abundantly clear.
This decision is unprecedented in our state, and maybe our region as well. Our solar story showcases the importance of owning the narrative. Intervenors attribute this story about an urban farm having to scrap its solarization plans with news of the new fees (projected to burden the average family or small business with an extra $750 per year). Marrying food justice issues to energy justice issues proved too “juicy” for the media to resist.
This is the third major decision from our NEW public service commission directed at Dominion within a year (the rate hike “pause,” the rejected integrated resource plan, and now this solar tariff). We began our organizing work with a strategy session in December, 2020 which culminated in a nighttime hearing on March 23, 2021 which we fought for and won (again, an unprecedented public request which was granted by the PSC only after Dominion tried to restrict the hearing to Dominion customers only even though it likely affected all South Carolinians.) We appreciate the new PSC putting the “public” back into the public service commission.
I would like to thank Ready for 100 and especially Drew O’Bryan and Rachel Dupree, who helped me get my nuanced argument together for an op-ed. Our team was anchored by longtime volunteer Pamela Greenlaw who went above and beyond by leafleting her solar neighbors even during a pandemic. Thanks to local Midlands group Sierra Club chair Priscilla Preston who carefully monitored the PSC hearings ALL day and adjusted her comments accordingly in conjunction with others so all our points were made. In a record-setting event, we had 260+ people testifying until 1:30 a.m. or later and another 191 submitting written comments! (For comparison’s sake, that is 2.5 times the number of testimonies delivered against Dominion’s unjustifiable rate hike case last year at the height of the pandemic). The PSC heard our arguments and voted unanimously to say NOPE to both Dominion’s proposal and S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff’s worse alternative! Dominion did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cost shift narratives like the one used by Dominion are some of the hardest to beat when going up against investor owned utilities. It’s an oldie but a goody, frequently utilized by IOUs all over the country. The good news is if we can beat the IOUs here, we can beat them anywhere!