Editorial roundup: Feb. 8, 2019


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Times and Democrat

Feb. 5

S.C. seems to be indefinite home of nuclear waste

South Carolina did its part during the Cold War. The Savannah River Site produced plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons.

In the decades since, there have been plans to effectively and permanently deal with the radioactive waste from the SRS processes. South Carolina was never supposed to be a permanent home.

It's bad enough that the plan to permanently store high-level waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been on hold for years with no sign that will change, and that the MOX project that gave South Carolina some hope of having waste reprocessed has been scrapped by the federal government, but now, not surprisingly, even the smallest of actions to make Nevada fulfill its nuclear mission is the subject of legal and political battles.

The U.S. Department of Energy disclosed this past week that it already has shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to a nuclear security site in Nevada.

The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno the government had already trucked the radioactive material to the site 70 miles north of Las Vegas when Nevada filed a request for an injunction to block the move in November.

According to Associated Press reporting, department lawyers said in a nine-page filing that the previously classified information about the shipment from South Carolina can be disclosed now because enough time has passed to protect national security.

Nevada's governor and congressional delegation went ballistic upon learning the news.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said he's "beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception." He said he's working with Nevada's congressional delegation to fight back against the U.S. government's "reckless disregard" for the safety of Nevadans.

Thankfully, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du rejected Nevada's request to halt the Energy Department's plans announced in August to ship a full metric ton of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina - where a federal judge previously issued an order that the plutonium be removed from SRS by January 2020.

Nevada argues the DOE has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes and that the state's lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.

The Energy Department wants to temporarily store the material at the Nevada site and the government's Pantex Plant in Texas, two facilities that already handle and process plutonium. The department says it would be sent by 2027 to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or another unnamed facility.

As reported by AP, Du wrote: "Nevada's claim of irreparable harm to Nevada's lands, environment and by extension Nevada's citizens is merely a theoretical possibility at this juncture as Nevada provides no evidence from which this court may infer a likelihood of any concrete or impending harm."

The judge noted that the government has transported nuclear materials to the Nevada site before and historically uses plutonium in testing operations there.

"Thus, it is highly hypothetical that shipments of additional plutonium to NNSS and staging there would lead to imminent immediate harm," Du wrote.

Sadly, it is clear that South Carolina will be home indefinitely to a lot of the nation's high-level nuclear waste.

The Post and Courier

Feb. 5

Santee Cooper developments are encouraging

As South Carolina lawmakers ponder the possible sale of state-owned utility company Santee Cooper, their top concern must be the company's roughly 700,000 residential and business electricity customers.

Of course, a sale is only on the table because Santee Cooper has about $4 billion in debt related to the failed construction of two nuclear reactors outside of Columbia. It also has a few billion dollars more in debt from other projects.

That's obviously not sustainable, but the best way forward isn't yet clear. There is reason for optimism, however.

Last week, the state Legislature and Gov. Henry McMaster got a detailed look at several potential proposals for selling all or part of Santee Cooper. Ten bidders made 15 offers, which are discussed in a report that analyzed suitors' experience in the industry, financial strength and other characteristics.

The report doesn't cover the names of the entities making offers or say which proposal would be best for South Carolina ratepayers, but some of the details are surprising - and encouraging.

At least three potential buyers said they wouldn't charge customers for the nuclear-related debt, for example.

That's a huge deal, especially considering that customers of Santee Cooper's nuclear project partner SCANA, which was recently bought out by Dominion Energy, will likely keep paying for two useless, incomplete reactors for decades.

A few offers for Santee Cooper even pledged to keep rates lower than what would otherwise be projected based on estimates of future electricity needs and the costs of meeting that demand.

It's worth noting, however, that the report seriously analyzed only those proposals that included a full buyout of Santee Cooper - four out of 15 offers. At this early stage in assessing the utility's future, every option ought to be on the table.

After all, the SCANA debacle suggests that private utility ownership doesn't necessarily ensure a better outcome or lower cost than a state-run operation, especially under lax legislative oversight and a flawed regulatory system.

It's possible that a less typical arrangement - a partial buyout or cooperative deal - might be beneficial.

In the long term, South Carolina must consider moving electricity generation toward a more open market system that would encourage competition and embrace cost-saving measures like investing in energy efficiency and large-scale solar power.

A system that rewards smaller but still meaningful upgrades rather than big-ticket spending would probably have prevented the nuclear fiasco from happening in the first place.

But for now, it's encouraging that Santee Cooper not only has multiple interested buyers, but also several that seem willing to go above and beyond to make sure that ratepayers have access to reliable, affordable electricity well into the future.

Lawmakers and Gov. McMaster have a lot to consider.


Feb. 6

Newspaper marks 100th anniversary

The report of our death is an exaggeration.

While true that some newspapers have folded their final editions and many others struggle to redefine who and what they are, the Index-Journal remains a steadfast beacon of news and information in Greenwood and the surrounding area.

This is not to say the newspaper, which celebrated its 100th anniversary Wednesday, has not endured its share of trials and struggles in the face of an ever-changing media landscape. But 100 years ago, the Index-Journal's first editor and owner, Harry Watson, would not have predicted the immense changes that occurred not only in the newspaper industry, but also - and more specifically - the evolution of the newspaper he proudly produced in serving Greenwood proper.

In 1919, communities such as Greenwood that were fortunate enough to have a newspaper relied heavily on the paper for news and information not only about their communities, but also about the nation and world. Only a year and a half after the first edition of The Index-Journal hit the streets did the first radio news broadcast hit the airwaves.

You know what came next: television. Newspaper owners feared radio and, as a result, many launched their own radio stations to corner their markets. Newspaper and radio station owners consequently dreaded what television would do to their market share.

Throughout these transitions and transformations, which certainly include the advent of the internet and all that goes with it, such as the immediacy of websites and social media, newspapers have adapted. And will continue to adapt.

We know, for example, that when it comes to the bulk of national and world news, you are already in the know by the time your morning paper arrives. That does not preclude us from sharing some of the top stories culled from the Associated Press wire service, but our emphasis is on sharing the news, features and sports you will not likely find anywhere else - and that is your hometown news, the news that is about your community, the news that at times affects your lives far more than what is on CNN, Fox or even the regional television stations.

The Index-Journal has evolved throughout its century of existence. It has grown in its publication time and frequency as it is now a true seven-day morning daily. It has stepped further away from being a major source of national and world news, placing its greatest emphasis on the local scene - but not ignoring those major news stories, such as general elections, major storms and disasters, terrorist attacks and the like. The newspaper has also grown in its coverage area, expanding its footprint to include neighboring counties and municipalities.

We do not know what the future holds, but we do know that some things have not changed all that greatly since Harry Watson penned these words on Page 4 of the first edition of The Index-Journal:

"For the very generous and general commendation from the citizens and business men of the town, The Index-Journal is grateful."