South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SCELP Staunches Flow of Radioactive Waste into Groundwater
Posted: July 31, 2014

On July 30, 2014, after a nearly 10 year ordeal, the S.C. Court of Appeals decided to hold Chem-Nuclear and DHEC accountable to the standards set by DHEC themselves for the disposal of radioactive waste. Chem-Nuclear is a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility located in Barnwell County on an area of 235 acres. It currently serves 3 states, but used to receive waste from across the country.

Throughout most of its 43 year history, traces of radioactive contamination have been found in the groundwater in and around the facility. Despite this continued pollution, DHEC decided to renew their license without requiring them to update to best practices or to implement tougher management methods.

The court's decision not only compels Chem-Nuclear to make such changes, but also chastises DHEC for not asking them to make those changes in the first place. Chem-Nuclear and DHEC must submit a plan within 90 days outlining how they are going to alter their practices to comply with laws limiting radioactive pollution.

Some of the actions they must take include covering vaults and trenches used to store radioactive waste and plugging holes in those same receptacles. Currently, the storage units are left open while in use and collect large amounts of rain water, which then leaks through the holes in the units which have been in place and leaching toxic water since the 1990s.

This decision does not overturn the DHEC permit, nor does it ask Chem-Nuclear to discontinue its work. It simply requires that they adhere to the standards put in place by the government of South Carolina to ensure that these dangerous and toxic substances are disposed of safely and with minimal impact to our citizens and our environment. This decision is a win not just for SCELP, but for all South Carolinians who want to see our state protected and its laws respected.