Nuclear Issues


Nuclear power is a no-win solution to climate change.  The costs to build these plants run into the billions, which is far greater than the costs of renewable energy.  It can take over 10 years to build these facilities without any climate benefit during that time.  Worse yet, the resulting facilities are a major threat to our environment and our safety. (see Oconee section below) 

Unfortunately, nuclear weapons production is also centered in South Carolina.  Production of nuclear weapons components at Savannah River Site (SRS) subjects South Carolinians to  massive amounts of nuclear waste.  The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has stated that the highly radioactive waste stored in aging tanks at SRS is the greatest environmental threat in South Carolina. In addition to environmental risks and waste generation, this facility would bring South Carolina firmly into the crosshairs in the event of an unthinkable nuclear war.  

no nuclear.png

---> See the Sierra Club's position on Nuclear Power:

And Nuclear Weapons here:


Group news release posted on SCELP website:

Court ruling in favor of plaintiffs posted here:


Leslie Lenhardt, South Carolina Environmental Law Project, (843) 527-0078,
Tom Clements, Savannah River Site Watch, (803) 240-7268,
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, (505) 989-7342,
Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 255-3589,
Queen Quet, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island

District Court Denies Department of Energy’s Motion to Dismiss Plutonium Pits Suit

Aiken, SC --- In a win for public participation and environmental protection, the United States District Court of South Carolina denied the Department of Energy’s motion to dismiss a 2021 legal action filed by multiple citizen groups. The suit was prompted by the agency’s failure to take the “hard look” required by the National Environmental Policy Act at its plans to more than quadruple the production of plutonium pits for new nuclear weapons and split their production between the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site. 


In her ruling, Judge Mary Geiger Lewis thoroughly rejected the defendants' arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing, saying it was “not a close call”.


“We were able to defeat yet another attempt to use standing as a weapon to keep members of the public out of the government's decision-making process,” said Leslie Lenhardt, Senior Managing Attorney at the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP). To date, the Department of Energy (DOE) has refused to fully examine the environmental and safety impacts of their cross-country plan, which would create massive quantities of dangerous radioactive materials, put hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on the line, risk a new nuclear arms race, and violate the nation's foundational environmental law. 


The Savannah River Site has never produced plutonium pits, the explosive cores of all U.S. nuclear weapons, and currently stores 11.5 metric tons of plutonium, which poses a daunting management and disposal challenge. Pit production will only increase its plutonium burden, along with more waste that needs to be treated, stored and disposed of.


“The ruling is a significant loss for the DOE in its efforts to dodge its legal obligations underNEPA,” said Tom Clements, Director of SRS Watch. “We will push forward in court to make sure that the DOE conducts the mandated environmental analysis of impacts of plutonium pit production at all involved DOE sites, including sites at which plutonium waste would be disposed.”


Despite outdated analyses failing to account for significant changes in circumstances, the U.S. government has ignored the repeated calls from the public, including the plaintiffs specifically, to conduct the legally required “hard look” at this major shift in policy that will only exacerbate the already documented waste of taxpayers’ money.


“It’s critical that the public understands that no future pit production is to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile,” said Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Instead, it is for speculative new designs that can’t be tested because of the international testing moratorium. Or worse yet, it could prompt the U.S. to resume testing, which would have severe proliferation consequences. This is the kind of needed public discussion that the Department of Energy seeks to shut down while spending enormous sums of taxpayers' money on expanding nuclear weapons production.”


SCELP filed the lawsuit on behalf of Savannah River Site Watch, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Tri-Valley CAREs and the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition in June of 2021 after the DOE's semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) concluded it was unnecessary to conduct a broad, nationwide review of this two-site strategy. Instead, the agency is relying on a supplemental analysis of an outdated Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) completed more than a decade ago, along with a separate review done for SRS alone.


“We are thrilled that the Court ruled in our favor and that this landmark environmental case can now proceed toward a final decision,” said Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of the Livermore-based Tri-Valley CAREs. “What’s at stake in our litigation is nothing less than the question of whether the federal government will be allowed to run roughshod over affected communities like mine all across the country. We believe the Court will ultimately agree with Plaintiff groups that the National Nuclear Security Administration must produce a nationwide Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement and hold public hearings at all of the locations that will be actively involved in these dangerous plutonium bomb core activities, including Livermore, CA. The analysis of risks must precede implementation of the project in order to forestall serious environmental degradation and potential loss of life.”

# # #


The Court Order Denying NNSA's Motion to Dismiss is available at 

63ea755b70d5a82f6c0eb8e2_Order Denying MTD.pdf (


The South Carolina Environmental Law Project uses its legal expertise to protect land, water, and communities across South Carolina. Savannah River Site Watch is based in Columbia, SC and monitors DOE activities at SRS. Nuclear Watch New Mexico is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico and focuses on nuclear weapons activities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment (CAREs) is located in Livermore, California and monitors the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a key nuclear-weapons-design facility. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition operates in accordance with the mission of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and spans from North Carolina to northern Florida and receives the downward flow of the Savannah River.


Public Hearings and Comment Periods for Surplus Plutonium DEIS and WIPP Expansion

  • Comment on Surplus Plutonium Draft Environmental Impact Statement Comment period ends Feb. 14, 2023;

Written comments on the Draft SPDP EIS should be received or postmarked by February 14, 2023 and sent to:

Maxcine Maxted, NEPA Document Manager

National Nuclear Security Administration

Office of Material Management and Minimization

Savannah River Site

P.O. Box A, Bldg. 730-2B, Rm. 328

Aiken, SC 29802

Phone: (803) 952-7434 to leave a message


The locations of the three in-person public hearings and the contact information for the virtual online meeting are provided below. 





Aiken, SC


January 19, 2023

6:00–9:00 PM Eastern

North Augusta Municipal Building, 100 Georgia Avenue, North Augusta, SC

Carlsbad, NM


January 24, 2023

6:00–9:00 PM Mountain

Carousel House at Pecos River Village Conference Center, 711 Muscatel Ave, Carlsbad, NM

Los Alamos, NM

Thursday, January 26, 2023

6:00–9:00 PM Mountain

Pajarito Room, Fuller Lodge Art Center, 2132 Central Ave, Los Alamos, NM 87544

Online (Zoom)


January 30, 2023

7:00–10:00 PM Eastern

6:00–9:00 PM Central

5:00–8:00 PM Mountain

4:00–7:00 PM Pacific

Meeting ID: 160 635 4491

Passcode: 041993

Dial in only – 1-551-285-1373



  • Comment on Permit Renewal for WIPP Expansion (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant)

Comment period ends Feb. 18, 2023

Permit can be read at December 20, 2022 Renewal Draft Permit [AR 221218] – but a much easier read can be found in the NMED Factsheet here:

Comments can be made here:

Additional Information following:

December 20, 2022 – The New Mexico Environment Department has determined technical completeness in the Permit Renewal process and is issuing a Public Notice announcing a Renewal draft Permit for public comment. Please see the reissued December 20, 2022 Fact Sheet for detailed and specific information on how to review changes being proposed in the draft Permit. The 60-day public comment period begins December 20, 2022 and will end on February 18, 2023 at 5:00 p.m. The draft Permit, Public Notice, re-issued Fact Sheet, and other information are provided below.

December 20, 2022 NMED Public Notice – English [AR 221219]

The December 20, 2022 Fact Sheet above is key to understanding how to review the draft Permit changes being proposed by both NMED and the Permittees. The RENEWAL DRAFT PERMIT, comprising all Permit Parts and Attachments, can be found as a folder below:

December 20, 2022 Renewal Draft Permit [AR 221218]


No update from the judge, as of January 2023, regarding the plutonium pit production lawsuit regarding the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). 

The US budget will likely be announced within the next month.  SRS funding will be listed under the Department of Energy including downblending projects.   If pit production at SRS shows as more than one billion, we need to voice our opposition at that time and lobby our members of Congress.



October 17, 2022  ---->  Regarding Nuclear Reactor Safety:

Groups (including Sierra Club) Applaud Nuclear Regulatory

Commission Move to Require Environmental Analyses for Nuclear

Plant Relicensing Beyond 60 Years

Decisions on Subsequent License Renewals Advance Reactor Safety and

Environmental Protection; Impacts Seen for License Renewals for Plants in

Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida


February 24, 2022 - In a dramatic reversal, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory

Commission (NRC) sent “subsequent license renewal” decisions for the

Turkey Point and other nuclear plants back to the drawing board for an

updated environmental analysis and new proceedings for public participation.

The decisions (CLI-22-02, CLI-22-03, CLI-22-04) affect all pending and

prospective subsequent license renewal proceedings, including North Anna

(Virginia), Peach Bottom (Pennsylvania), Oconee (South Carolina), Point

Beach (Wisconsin), and Turkey Point (Florida). Those renewals could extend

those plants’ lives to 80 years.

“The decision is a tremendous advance for nuclear reactor safety and

environmental protection, because it commits NRC to evaluate the unique

risks of renewing reactor licenses for a second term,” said Diane Curran,

attorney for Beyond Nuclear, a national environmental group that has

challenged the adequacy of an outdated Generic Environmental Impact

Statement (GEIS) that NRC had previously relied on for the license


The Oconee Nuclear Station (ONS) with its three nuclear reactors

sits below the Jocassee and the Keowee Dams, which are approaching 50

years old.  An unlikely, but possible breach of the Jocassee Dam would


inundate the ONS (~370 billion gallons of water in Lake Jocassee) and result

in nuclear reactor meltdown. A new generic environmental impact statement,

required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will provide essential

information about the future risks of flooding of the ONS. 

For more information, please contact:

Frank Powell,   or Rosellen Aleguire,



September 12, 2022

Despite troubles, SC Nuclear fuel plant gets new 40-year operating license


Sept. 1, 2022   The State, Columbia, SC,  


Savannah River Site


Update on Savannah River Site as of September 1, 2022:

In summer 2022, there have been several significant developments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 310-square-mile Savannah River Site (SRS), near Aiken, SC, concerning environmental and nuclear non-proliferation matters. The Sierra Club is concerned about SRS, in part as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has stated that the highly radioactive waste stored in aging tanks at SRS is the greatest environmental threat in South Carolina. Among DOE sites nationwide, SRS holds a huge volume of nuclear waste, with the highest radioactive content of any DOE site. Pursuit of production of plutonium “pits” (cores) for nuclear weapons continues at SRS.

In May 2018, the Department of Defense and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) proposed converting the partially finished plutonium fuel (MOX) building at SRS into a facility to make new “pits,” the plutonium core of new and old nuclear weapons. The South Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club has opposed this proposal - see 2019 resolution linked here. Over $5 billion was wasted on construction of the MOX plant before the project was terminated in 2018 and Congress has failed to investigate what happened. If the costly pit project comes to fruition, SRS would be the second site in the DOE complex to produce pits (along with the Los Alamos site in New Mexico).

The pit-production sites would be integral to production of two new nuclear weapons, key to the current U.S. policy to stay on a footing to fight a full-scale nuclear war. Thus, in addition to environmental risks and waste generation, this facility would bring South Carolina firmly into the crosshairs in the event of an unthinkable nuclear war. While many questions exist about a second pit-production site, Congress has so far funded the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant and the amount that is likely to pass in the Fiscal Year 2023 DOE budget is about $758 billion. (See pages 166 & 200 in House budget report for FY23.) NNSA has estimated it would cost up to $11.1 billion to convert the MOX plant to pit production.

As environmental impacts at all DOE sites associated with pit production have not been properly analyzed, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP) has brought a lawsuit on behalf of four complainants - including Savannah River Site Watch and the Gullah/Geeche Sea Island Coalition - demanding that a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) be prepared to look at the overall impacts of the project. (See the SCELP website on pit production.) That lawsuit was filed in federal court in Columbia, SC in June 2021. It has taken the court until June 2022 to begin considering the complaint. Per the request of the court, SCELP filed an amended complaint in July 2022, to which NNSA responded, and SCELP then filed a second and last legal document on August 15, 2022. (See court filings on the SRS Watch website.) NNSA, via its Department of Justice lawyers, will respond by August 29 and then the matter will be up to Judge Michelle Childs. Complainants are hoping for a ruling requiring a PEIS. Meanwhile, efforts to raise public awareness about the SRS pit plant and its role in a new nuclear arms race and to cut its funding, will continue.

Spent fuel export from Germany to SRS now off the table. For 10 years, SRS has had an agreement with a German nuclear research site at Juelich, Germany under which export of highly radioactive spent fuel - in the form of uranium-impregnated graphite balls - would be shipped to SRS for processing and disposal, both on site and elsewhere. This issue is little known but environmental activists have opposed the proposal since its inception in 2012 and the SRS Citizens Advisory Board passed a resolution against the German spent fuel import in 2017, which was supported by Sierra Club members.. Now, a new CDUGreen government in the German state of North Rhine-Westfalia has come to an agreement that a new spent fuel storage facility at Juelich will be pursued. Additionally, the director of the German company that manages the spent fuel has said to the media in July 2022 that "We will propose to give up the option of exporting the Castors [casks with the spent fuel] to the US."

These positive developments have led to a renewed call to terminate the SRS-German cooperation on importing the waste. While halting export is not yet a final, official German government decision, the effort of some at SRS to profit off the importation, processing and dumping of this highly radioactive material is faltering and brings us much closer to an environmental victory for South Carolina. H-Canyon reprocessing plant on track for closure. The H-Canyon reprocessing plant at SRS, which produced nuclear weapons materials and which pumped tens of millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste into on-site storage tanks, is now slated to be closed. SRS produced over 36 metric tons of plutonium for nuclear weapons in five special nuclear reactors, giving it a significant, yet dubious role during the Cold War. SRS stated in a news release issued on July 11, 2022 that H-Canyon would be rendered inoperable, something long sought by environmentalists, in 2033.

Before then, remaining research reactor spent fuel stored in a pool at SRS would be processed through H-Canyon and into the SRS tanks. That highly radioactive material would then be solidified with glass in large containers, awaiting disposal as high-level waste in the ever-elusive U.S. underground disposal facility. Closure of this reprocessing facility, the last one in the U.S., will be a significant environmental achievement for South Carolina and a notable nuclear non-proliferation victory for us all.

Tom Clements

Member, South Carolina Chapter Sierra Club

Director of SRS Watch


DOE Faces Amended Complaint in Federal Court over Inadequate Environmental Review of Plutonium Pit Production (for New Nuclear Weapons), at SRS and Los Alamos and other DOE Sites

July 15, 2022 -->

June 29, 2022 --> Groups Notify Biden Admin of Impending Lawsuit Over Nuclear Bomb Core Plans: multi-state coalition says DOE’s plans to massively expand plutonium pit production violate a major environmental law and constitutes an environmental injustice

Please join our efforts and take action. 



----> South Carolina Sierra Club's Resolution Regarding Pit Production:

The US Department of Energy is considering a dangerous, dirty and unneeded new nuclear weapons role for the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina. That new mission - the Plutonium Bomb Plant - would entail production of plutonium “pits,” or the spherical plutonium triggers for all US nuclear weapons. Pit production is complicated, dangerous, dirty and costly and would pose a host of new challenges at SRS, a site not suited for this work and where the focus must remain on clean-up of existing radioactive and toxic waste.

1. WHEREAS: The US Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS) historically produced 36 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium in five nuclear production reactors, and now stores 35 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste in corroding steel tanks as a by-product of such plutonium production. SRS continues to face the daunting task of managing that waste, outlined in the SRS “liquid waste system plan.” Although 8 waste storage tanks are now closed, 43 tanks remain active. Removing the waste from them is the most urgent project now underway at SRS and merits full site attention and budget priority. Diverting limited budget resources to the plutonium pit mission may well divert site attention and funding from this uncompleted priority environmental clean-up project.

2. WHEREAS: SRS was designated in 2007 to be the site to store surplus weapons plutonium that was not removed from nuclear weapons, and currently stores 12 metric tons of plutonium in the old KReactor. The disposition pathway for all that material has not been defined, which is of concern to the State of South Carolina. Plutonium pit production at SRS will likely result in yet more plutonium being brought into South Carolina, which could be stranded here if the complicated pit production project falters.

3. WHEREAS: In May 2018, the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) issued a news release announcing that it had chosen SRS as the site to produce 50 or more plutonium “pits” per year for nuclear weapons. In spite of this declaration of intent, the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant is not authorized or funded by Congress and the fate of the project will continue to be under discussion by the Armed Services Committees of both the House and Senate.

4. WHEREAS: NNSA has proposed production up to 80 plutonium pits per year at SRS and at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. At SRS, NNSA claims the failed and shuttered plutonium fuel (Mixed Oxide or MOX) plant would be where production of 50+ pits per year would be located. The MOX project was formally terminated in October 2018, after a waste of $5 billion on construction, and is rife with construction and design problems. According to various DOE reports, including the summary to a classified report, the pit production project faces big challenges and the summary concludes that the “eventual success of the strategy to reconstitute plutonium pit production is far from certain.” DocuSign Envelope ID: CA8770B8-5F9E-463D-9989-DEB244510AC0

5. WHEREAS: Plutonium pit production has a host of nuclear and chemical waste streams, including transuranic (plutonium) waste, low-level radioactive waste and beryllium (which serves as a liner around the pit). Disposition paths for such dangerous wastes are unknown and some waste streams could remain on site permanently, adding to the existing SRS waste burden. The clean-up of existing waste at SRS must not be delayed or complicated by bringing in or creating yet more waste at the site.

6. WHEREAS: While SRS stores plutonium and has recently processed some plutonium into a powder (oxide) for the cancelled MOX fuel project, the site has not cast liquid plutonium since it produced plutonium ingots in the last-1980s that were shipped off site for pit production. SRS does not have the technical capability to cast plutonium spheres, which pose high risks of nuclear criticality accidents, worker exposure and environmental contamination.

7. WHEREAS: The last large-scale production of pits took place at the DOE Rocky Flats site, near Denver, Colorado. The site was closed in 1989 after an FBI raid due to illegal waste management practices. The disastrous history of Rocky Flats is a warning that the threat of nuclear accident, environmental contamination and worker exposure is high in the pit production process.

8. WHEREAS: An “Engineering Assessment Report” for DOE in April 2018 analyzed the SRS option and three options at Los Alamos and pointed out construction and schedule challenges to achieve a production rate of 80 pits per year by 2030. The life-cycle cost for use of the MOX plant for pit production was $27 billion and all of the Los Alamos options were $15 billion or more. Given that DOE has a record of failure with large, costly, complicated projects - witness the bungled MOX project - the cost is certain to rise dramatically and the schedule to slip significantly, placing the project at risk of abandonment if it were to be pursued. Such high costs will threaten the SRS cleanup budget, the main project at the site and its largest employer.

9. WHEREAS: Production of new plutonium pits is intended for the production of a class of new and refurbished nuclear weapons and could help stimulate a new nuclear arms race. The bulk of the new pits would be for new design nuclear missile warheads - designated the W87-1 and W76-1. No new nuclear weapons are needed and the US currently has about 1750 deployed nuclear weapons, 2000 nuclear weapons in active reserve and another 2000 in storage. Deployment of new nuclear weapons would be a provocative act and undermine disarmament requirements of Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

10. WHEREAS: Public interest groups that monitor and educate the public on SRS and DOE issues have complained to DOE that proper National Environmental Policy Act documentation for pit production has not been prepared. The groups have pressured DOE to prepare various levels of NEPA documents and have forced DOE to announce that it will conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on SRS pit production. Public participation and comments must be considered by DOE on the costs and benefits of SRS plutonium pit production, including the need for pits for new nuclear weapons, the environmental impacts of waste streams involved with pit production, the risk of nuclear criticality, worker exposure and if the “no action alternative” (no new pit plant at SRS) should prevail. DocuSign Envelope ID: CA8770B8-5F9E-463D-9989-DEB244510AC0

11. WHEREAS: Various public interest groups in South Carolina, including Savannah River Site Watch, Carolina Peace Resource Center and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, have opposed pit production at SRS and are encouraging more groups to join the effort to oppose this costly, complicated project.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That the South Carolina Sierra Club opposes the dangerous, dirty and unneeded DOE proposal to begin plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina; that the South Carolina Sierra Club urges the DOE to concentrate its resources and personnel at SRS on its priority environmental clean-up mission, particularly on safely managing the 35 million gallons of high level radioactive wastes remaining from its historic plutonium production activities; and that the South Carolina Sierra Club encourages its members to actively participate in the DOE and any other available environmental review, legislative, administrative and permitting processes to object to this proposal for plutonium pit production for nuclear weapons at the Savannah River Site.



 Oconee Nuclear Power Plant

Safety Issue 

After the recent NRC Public Meeting on August 17, 2022, we contiue to monitor and are now writing letters. Please join our efforts and take action.

(See detailed explanation following)

Oconee nuclear power station on lake Oconee

South Carolina produces approximately 56% of its power from nuclear energy.   Although exact figures are not disclosed, the majority of that nuclear power is generated by 3 Duke Energy reactors at the Oconee Nuclear Station (ONS) on Lake Keowee located 10 miles from Clemson, SC and Clemson University.   The reactors require a 50-MILE Emergency Planning Zone for 3 STATES,  27 counties and 1,435,128 people.  The reactors combine for a 2,500 megawatt output. The three reactors also sit just ten miles downstream from the massive Jocassee Dam (385' tall) and the adjacent Keowee Dam (170'). Beyond Nuclear and Sierra Club contend that Duke Energy has failed to adequately prepare for an extreme flood should the Jocassee and Keowee dams fail.  Beyond Nuclear experts contend that, based on Duke’s own analysis, a catastrophic Jocassee Dam failure could flood the Oconee Nuclear Station to a depth of 19 feet disabling the reactors' cooling and safety systems, likely causing three reactor meltdowns and significant offsite radiation releases downwind and downstream. This scenario poses an unimaginable catastrophe for Upstate South Carolina, North Georgia and Western North Carolina.


Duke Energy currently has an application before the NRC for Duke Energy's three reactors' second 20-year operating license extension which would allow the reactors to operate until 2053 and 2054.  Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Complex is almost 50 years old as is the Jocassee Dam upstream.  The three Oconee units initially received their operating license in 1973 and 1974. Duke Energy has claimed that Oconee’s design and construction did not need any flood  protection from a catastrophic failure of the 50 year old Jocasse Dam, a 385-foot earth and stone filled hydroelectric facility built by Duke at the same time as the nuclear power station.   Radiation releases to the public from the Oconee nuclear reactors if the Jocassee Dam fails is an unacceptably high probability known to both nuclear regulators and Duke Energy. The three aging nuclear reactors threaten not only people and property values but also a region beloved for its beautiful mountains and rivers, forests, lakes, streams, hiking trails, flora and fauna. The risk is great and the stakes are high.   Nuclear Watch South, Beyond Nuclear and Sierra Club are working together to prevent a radioactive tragedy from happening in South Carolina.