N.C. backs out of deal to build radioactive waste site
Posted July 20, 1999
Updated June 1, 2010
RALEIGH — North Carolina has backed out of a deal with seven other states to build a radioactive waste site. The decision was made even though the state has already spent millions looking for a place to put the dump.
Lawmakers voted to pull out for two reasons: cut losses now and let private companies handle our waste.
Others say a publicly-funded compact is the only way to ensure public safety. No matter who is right, the state has spent a lot of money with little to show for it.
After more than a decade and more than $111 million, the state legislature is giving up on its proposed site.
As a member of the Southeast Compact Commission, North Carolina agreed to build a low-level nuclear waste dump on some land in southern Wake County.
After protest, heated debate and environmental questions, legislators say it is time to cut losses.
"We don't need it. The existing sites are taking care of the demand quite well and are expected to do so for the future," said Rep. Joe Hackney.
Now that North Carolina is out, some states will not allow the state's waste in. South Carolina's Barnwell disposal site is off limits to North Carolina's low-level nuclear waste.
Despite the consequences, only three house members voted in favor of staying with the compact.
"Once we make a deal with somebody, we ought to keep it. I don't like the perception around the country that North Carolina is a state that you can't depend on," said Rep. Larry Justus.
The Southeast Compact Commission said, "We question whether North Carolina has the right to withdraw. The commission will be evaluating what its options are to ensure that North Carolina lives up to its commitment."
As the debate continues, the original problem is still there.
"I don't think we are any worse or any better. Right now, we still have a low-level waste problem in the state, and we need to deal with it. The legislature and the governor say they want to deal with it on a statewide basis rather than a regional basis," said Andy James of the N.C. Low Level Waste Authority.
Now the debate begins all over again. State regulators will search for another North Carolina site to store waste.
Many people expect the Southeast Compact Commission to take North Carolina to court.
It has been a rocky 16-year relationship between North Carolina and the Southeast Compact Commission.
The commission was formed in 1983. Three years later, North Carolina was picked to build a new landfill. The August 1994 opening date came and went.
In 1996, the waste site, all but dead, got new funding and a new projected opening date of 2002.
Tuesday night's decision may have angered states and taxpayers, but it could save money in the long run.
Recent estimates put building costs at more than $200 million or five times the original estimate.