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Opinion/Editorial: Exaggerated Barnwell Alarm

The following Op-Ed appeared in The State on Tuesday, March 6th

by Keith Sloan
Barnwell County Council Chairman

Having had the low-level radioactive waste disposal facility as a valuable neighbor for nearly 36 years, the citizens of Barnwell County have become accustomed to the shrill, exaggerated sounds of alarmists in other parts of the state and country trying to tell us what's good for us.

While we appreciate their concern, we're getting along pretty well with our disposal facility that many of our critics have never seen in person. And we want the facility, which provides jobs for our people, 15 percent of our budget and a public service to South Carolina and the nuclear industry, to continue current operations. No one has ever been harmed from the facility's operations. No one has ever been exposed to radiation levels even close to those limits deemed acceptable and safe by federal and state government regulators.

Barnwell County and City councils, along with other government and business groups, all are on record supporting current operations.

Ann Timberlake, who works for a conservation group in Columbia, tried to set off her own version of a nuclear warning system recently, stating “the Barnwell facility makes terrible sense from an environmental perspective.” She then breathtakingly warned readers about the “leaked radioactive tritium” into a nearby creek.

What she did not tell you was this: The maximum tritium concentration ever measured at the site's compliance point was only 20 percent of the limit set by the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The measurement was calculated to be 5.7 millirems per year. The average American is exposed to 360 millirems per year just by living on planet Earth.

To borrow a phrase from Al Gore, that is an inconvenient truth the critics do not want you to know. Ms. Timberlake did not tell you that DHEC approved the facility's license renewal and, after the Sierra Club appealed, the decision was upheld by the Administrative Law Court.

The licensing renewal came after a multi-year, in-depth study of the facility's ability to meet safety standards well into the future. An independent, blue-ribbon panel of experts convened by DHEC concluded that it poses minimal risk to either the public or the environment now and in the future.

That's a pretty big inconvenient truth for critics.

Then there is the theme song claim of the alarmists: “South Carolina is the nation's nuclear dumping ground.” This claim is overblown and misleading. Consider the following. In 2006, 16.3 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste were disposed of in the United States. Barnwell last year took in about 38,000 cubic feet — that's about two-tenths of 1 percent of all low-level waste disposed of last year.

Put another way, 99.8 percent of all low-level radioactive waste went somewhere else last year. Another inconvenient truth.

While industries that use nuclear technology, such as medicine and pharmaceuticals, need disposal facilities, the largest users are utilities that operate nuclear power plants.

And that's the heart of the issue. Many Barnwell critics are using the facility as a tactic to accomplish their main goal of stopping production of more nuclear power, the cheapest, cleanest and safest way to generate electricity.

Limiting Barnwell to serving only Connecticut, New Jersey and South Carolina makes no sense, unless your ulterior motive is to thwart nuclear power.

Limiting Barnwell will create an economic crisis in my county. It will force the state to subsidize operations because the site will not generate enough revenue to pay for operating it. And you could see low-level radioactive waste being stored across the state because the Barnwell facility would be too expensive.

Those of us living near the site understand the operations and trust the workers (who also live in Barnwell County) to continue the proven safe disposal practices at the site. We value the contributions of the workers and the company to our communities' social, civic and economic viability. We certainly want to continue operation of the facility at current levels.

I encourage people in other parts of the state to learn the facts of the Barnwell operation. When they do, I believe they too will support the continued operation of this valuable asset.

Mr. Sloan is the chairman of Barnwell County Council and the owner of an accounting and tax firm in Williston.

What DHEC Says About Chem-Nuclear and the Barnwell Facility

In a recently released DHEC Bureau of Land and Waste Management publication, the Barnwell facility was noted for its safe nuclear disposal. Here are some of the statements DHEC published:

  • Commercial Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal In South CarolinaRadiation exposure to the public due to activities associated with the Barnwell facility has been minimal and well within regulatory limits for its workers. Page 5.
  • The radioactive waste disposed of at the Barnwell facility is a byproduct of these beneficial uses such as electricity production, manufacturing, medical diagnosis, cancer therapy and scientific research. Page 5.
  • The Barnwell facility does not accept any HLRW (high-level radioactive waste) or TRU waste (Transuranic waste). Also, not all low-level radioactive waste is acceptable at the Barnwell facility. Only low-level radioactive wastes that primarily contain radioisotopes having relatively short half-lives (a few decades) are accepted for disposal. After 25 years, only 25 percent of the radioactivity disposed of at the facility will remain, due to radioactive decay. After 100 years, the radioactivity decreases to 10 percent. Page 6.
  • CNS (Chem-Nuclear Systems), as a radioactive materials licensee, has a documented history of exceptional regulatory compliance. The overall safe operation of the site has been commended repeatedly by the state’s Department of Labor.” Page 15.
  • The results of two assessments (safety studies) are very compatible, finding little reason for concern over significant radionuclide migration to existing drinking water supplies. In addition, the U. S. Geological Survey has spent years studying the site’s geohydrological conditions and has concluded that the site is adequate for the disposal of LLRW (low-level radioactive waste). Page 15.

Quotations takes from “Commercial Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal In South Carolina,
A publication of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control”

[View the entire DHEC publication]


Leading Environmental Activist Addresses Nuclear Power & the Barnwell Site


Dr. Patrick Moore
Founding Member of Greenpeace

Dr. Patrick Moore has been a leader in the international environmental movement for more than three decades. He is a founding member of Greenpeace, the world’s largest environmental activist organization. He served for nine years as president of Greenpeace Canada and seven years as director of Greenpeace International.

Today Dr. Moore works with environmentally friendly groups and companies such as Energy Solutions to promote sustainability and consensus building among competing concerns.


Barnwell Leaders Urge Passage of New Bill

In a recent letter to state legislators, Barnwell County leaders urged the General Assembly to pass a bill to keep the Barnwell facility open to out-of-compact states. [Read the entire letter]



Keith Sloan
Chairman, Barnwell County Council


Marty Martin
Executive Director, Barnwell Economic
Development Commission

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