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Opening Comments before the House Environmental Affairs I Subcommittee

H. 3545

S. C. Department of Health and Environmental Control

Presented by Michael Moore

March 20, 2007

Good Afternoon. My name is Michael Moore and I serve as the manager for the Radioactive Waste Management Section located within the Bureau of Land and Waste Management at the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). We appreciate the opportunity to be here today and to provide information about the Department’s role at the Barnwell Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility.

The mission of the Department is to promote and protect the health of the public and the environment. As the regulatory agency responsible for licensing the Barnwell Facility, our role is to ensure that the environmental requirements contained in the license are met and that the facility is operated in a matter that is protective of the public’s health and the environment.

With respect to H.3545, the Department does not have a position on this Bill– Our primary role is to properly regulate the Barnwell Facility while the facility is receiving waste, and during closure and post closure activities.

The Barnwell Disposal Facility has operated under a license issued by the Department since the beginning of disposal activities in 1971. Regulatory oversight of the facility by the Department includes: 1) having a full-time trained Health Physicist on site to inspect 100% of the shipments received by Chem-Nuclear; 2) conducting detailed weekly inspections of site conditions; 3) splitting quarterly surface water, well water and soil samples collected by Chem-Nuclear for independent analysis; 4) conducting comprehensive, unannounced semi-annual inspections that typically involve 6 DHEC staff over a week’s time; 5) reviewing and approving all trench construction activities before they can be utilized for disposal; and 6) reviewing all special waste and higher activity Class C waste shipments received by the facility.

During this time, the Department has also overseen significant improvements at the site to further promote and protect the environment. In 1995, approval was given for the utilization of reinforced concrete vaults, in addition to high integrity containers, for all waste classes to protect and stabilize the waste. Covering the trenches with a multilayer-engineered cap was also implemented to prevent rainwater from entering the covered trenches. The Department has conceptually approved the proposed utilization of a “progressive” trench design that will reduce the amount of open space in the trench that could possibly collect rainwater, lower potential worker exposure, and reduce the material needed to cap the trench. If final approval is granted, this progressive trench design will increase the remaining capacity from the current 1.2 to 2.2 million cubic feet. I would also like to add that the Department will provide an opportunity for the public to comment on this design as part of our formal review process.

While the Barnwell Facility has an overall acceptable compliance record, one issue should be noted. Because of disposal practices prior to the utilization of the reinforced concrete vaults, an older, closed portion of the site contains tritium and is actively being monitored by both Chem-Nuclear and DHEC. The liquid effluent from the groundwater releases has reached Mary’s Branch Creek, but tritium levels are currently well below the regulatory limit of 25 mrem/yr. for all pathways. The Department is continuing to monitor this contamination plume, including appropriate containment and clean-up action as necessary.

Finally, as information for the Subcommittee, the comprehensive license renewal issued by DHEC to Chem-Nuclear in March 2004 was appealed by the Sierra Club to the Administrative Law Court. In October 2005, the Administrative Law Court Judge ruled in DHEC’s favor upholding the renewed license. This Administrative Law Court decision was appealed by the Sierra Club. Energy Solutions – Chem-Nuclear’s parent company -- has taken this case to the State Supreme Court for guidance on whether the DHEC Board or the S.C. Court of Appeals should hear the case next. We are currently waiting on a date for the Supreme Court to hear the case and give direction on who should hear the case next. In the interim, however, the current license remains in effect.

Thank you for your attention and we will be glad to answer any questions.

Michael Moore, Manager

SC DHEC

803-896-4181

For additional information, please see the following documents listed on our website at http://www.scdhec.gov/eqc/lwm/html/haz.html

  • Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility Fact Sheet
  • Status of Barnwell Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility February 2007
  • Commercial Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal in South Carolina