Secretive Energy Department Plan for Nuclear Parks Stumbles

Secretive Energy Department Plan for Nuclear Parks Stumbles

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The Department of Energy’s (DOE) ill-conceived plan for a nuclear park at a key site in the DOE complex has hit a wall after a persistent challenge by Friends of the Earth. Although never developed as a departmental policy, the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management began its own secretive initiative and quietly negotiated with contractors to pursue a subsidized “energy park” at the sprawling Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. 

Given the cancellation of the Yucca Mountain project, officials urged contractors to pursue spent fuel storage and reprocessing and “advanced” plutonium-fueled nuclear reactors. In April, the department attempted to move forward on the leasing of 2700 acres of land at SRS to a private entity without any form of public input, trashing claims by the new secretary of energy that his department would be run in an open and transparent manner. Further compounding the shadowy plan, DOE attempted to blatantly skirt the law which requires that a list of surplus land at DOE sites be made public and that details of projects being proposed as well as their economic viability be presented. 

A parallel approach was undertaken at the DOE’s Piketon site in southern Ohio, with both the public and the legal requ irements also being ignored. There, DOE allowed Duke Energy and the French nuclear company Areva to make a surprise announcement in June that a nuclear reactor project was moving forward in a “clean energy park” at the Piketon site. 

As DOE attempted to move forward at both sites, Friends of the Earth pushed hard and put the department on notice that it was not only violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the law regulating surplus land transfer and development but that it was also violating the public trust by cutting deals behind the scenes. Friends of the Earth facilitated hundreds of concerned citizens to write letters to DOE and organized attendance at a belated meeting on the SRS energy park scheme. 

In August, DOE caved to public pressure and the realities of the law and quietly announced that movement towards leasing of land at SRS was canceled. As the same illegal and unethical approach had been taken at Piketon, it is believed that plans for a dirty energy park there have also quietly evaporated. Thus, DOE has now suffered a serious setback in its test effort to give a way public lands to special interests allied with the nuclear industry. 

Friends of the Earth remains diligent as to the next steps towards nuclear parks on DOE sites nationwide and will once again confront DOE if any plan to give-away federal land for subsidized dirty nuclear projects emerges. Friends of the Earth will continue to insist that surplus DOE land be used only for clean, non-polluting development.