Friday, February 12, 2016

YIMBY in South Carolina Revisited, Now as a Budget Battle (and a Primary Battle?)

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post that included the following text:

The U.S. Department of Energy is operating a nuclear facility near Aiken, South Carolina. The purpose of the facility is to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel. Obviously, such a facility requires plutonium, which means that there's a whole bunch of that deadly material floating around South Carolina....

Understandably, there are two sides in this battle. One side asserts that a plutonium conversion facility is extremely dangerous and costly. The other side asserts that the plutonium conversion facility is necessary to implement international agreements, and that it would be un-Constitutional to shut the facility down.

Oh, by the way, it's the STATE that wants to keep the facility open, and the FEDS who want to shut it down.

Fast forward to this week, when the Democratic President went through the exercise of submitting a budget for 2017 - a budget that will pretty much be ignored because Republicans run the House and Senate. But for what it's worth, the President's budget includes a change for a particular South Carolina facility:

On Tuesday, President Obama proposed a 2017 budget that called for terminating the project and called for a "change in plutonium disposition" that would appropriate $285 million for the Energy Department to complete a "preconceptual design" for downblending the radioactive material.

The change means that instead of turning the material into the nuclear fuel, the Savannah River Site would be tasked only with diluting the plutonium and then shipping it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Several people are not happy with this proposal, including the South Carolina Attorney General ("the federal government must be required to 'obey the law' and finish the MOX facility"), U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham ("reckless, ill-conceived and dangerous"), and U.S. Representative Joe Wilson ("counterproductive and shortsighted").

And all of this controversy comes at a critical time - not for President Obama, but for his successor. Because right now Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and a host of other candidates are all headed to South Carolina, trying to convince the citizens that they would make a great President.

Take the case of Clinton, who was a former member of Obama's administration. Or take the case of Jeb Bush - the project was launched while his brother was President. Or take the case of Trump - who if he were to build a nuclear disposal facility, it would be the absolute best facility ever, and would be named Trump. Of course, even if a Trump facility released tons of nuclear waste and killed the fine citizens of South Carolina, he wouldn't lose voters.

So we'll see if this becomes an issue with the Presidential candidates in the next few weeks. Incidentally, South Carolina will be a bit of fun, because the Republican and Democratic primaries are a week apart.
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