Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston on a uranium spill under a fuel rod plant:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has rightly reopened an investigation into whether radioactive material that seeped into the soil beneath a Westinghouse fuel rod plant southeast of Columbia presents an environmental hazard.
The spilled uranium has the potential to seep into groundwater and contaminate ponds, creeks and possibly the Congaree River, which is about 3 miles away from the plant. Congaree National Park is about 6 miles downstream.
But so far Westinghouse, which is seeking a new 40-year license to continue its operations near Hopkins, has no plans to clean up the soil until after the plant is decommissioned, which, if the license were renewed, would be no sooner than 2058. According to the NRC, about 10 feet of soil would need to be excavated below the building.
The latest of the spills occurred in June when a uranium-hydrofluoric acid solution burned through a spill liner, ate a 3-inch hole in the concrete floor of the plant, then leaked into the soil. At least two other spills due to broken pipes occurred in 2008 and 2011.
According to the NRC, soil testing showed uranium pollution as high as 4,000 parts per million, about 1,300 times higher than normal levels. Uranium occurs naturally in soil at about three parts per million. Toxic levels can cause kidney damage and other serious health problems.
So far, there’s no evidence that groundwater has been contaminated. But area wells are being tested. Groundwater tests are also being done on the Westinghouse property.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), which is doing the testing, is expected to announce its results in several weeks. Even if no elevated levels of uranium are found in the groundwater, the NRC should mandate ongoing monitoring. It should also require stricter reporting standards. The NRC didn’t learn about the leaks in 2008 and 2011 until years afterward.
Before the latest revelations, reported by The State newspaper, the NRC had been ready to sign off on an environmental study that concluded issuing a new license to Westinghouse would “not significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”
But an NRC report in June said, “The contaminated material will likely be a source of future groundwater and/or surface water contamination if the material leaches in the shallow water-table aquifer.”
Uranium pollution isn’t the only problem at the site. Westinghouse built the plant in 1969. Nitrate pollution, which probably came from onsite wastewater lagoons, has contaminated groundwater near the site since the 1980s, and cleanup efforts have been only partially successful.
In 2016, a potentially dangerous buildup of uranium was discovered in an air pollution control device and, this year, the NRC cited Westinghouse for failing to have an adequate plan to limit a release of any radioactive buildup into the air.
So there are plenty of reasons for the NRC to take it slow and for DHEC to prove the radioactive pollution will not spread.
Westinghouse has about 10 years left on its current license. It obviously needs a better spill-containment system, and nearby residents, many of whom rely on wells, need long-term assurance the site will not threaten water supplies.
The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette on a Hurricane Florence evacuation order being lifted:
Gov. Henry McMaster’s was right to lift a mandatory evacuation order for Beaufort County Tuesday morning shortly before it was to take effect.
We are not hurricane forecasters and urged compliance with the order, even as the National Hurricane Center graphics showed Beaufort County apparently out of the zone for possible landfall of powerful Hurricane Florence.
Nevertheless, it was clear that the order was not going to be widely followed.
Too many businesses to count planned to remain open throughout the county. That means all those workers would not be leaving.
Our fear was that the governor’s mandatory evacuation order would be seen as “crying wolf” and that the public would not listen to future orders.
The governor can never be faulted for erring on the side of caution in his original evacuation order.
And now we hope he can be supported for changing the plan as circumstances dictated.
A tinge of politics is always involved in these tough decisions. It is widely believed that the statewide gridlock that took place in the 1999 evacuation for Hurricane Floyd played a role in the re-election loss for former Gov. Jim Hodges. That seems to be the model to avoid, as it should be. It was miserable for the public. And those seeking election, as McMaster is at the moment, will avoid that man-made disaster at all costs.
It has always been wise to leave early as a hurricane approaches the state. For many years, many people have worked hard to drill that into the public conscience.
By doing that on Monday, McMaster said, 1 million people will be out of harm’s way, including those in hospitals and homes for the elderly. He acknowledged the inconvenience, but stressed that he did not want to see a single life lost in South Carolina.
But there always was ambiguity in the order that we did not like.
McMaster announced lane-reversals of U.S. 278 and U.S. 21 in the county, but not really. That would happen only if needed. And the need would be determined locally, based on conditions at the time. And that decision would have a lot to do with public movement about the county.
That’s a mixed signal we’re not used to seeing when an evacuation is ordered. And it was made worse by the fact that Beaufort County appeared, even as the evacuation order was made, to no longer be within the wide area of the hurricane’s potential landfall. Of course, that could always change. And as McMaster said, it’s easier to “stand down” all the state resources it takes to pull off an evacuation than have them “stand up” at a moment’s notice.
For the sake of the credibility of future evacuation orders, we applaud the governor for standing down when he did for Beaufort County.
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