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Plutonium Shipments to South Carolina to Begin

Will Governor Jim Hodges keep his promise?

S.C. Loses Plutonium Shipment Ruling
Thu Jun 13, 5:37 PM ET
By JACOB JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

AIKEN, S.C. (AP) - A federal judge on Thursday denied Gov. Jim Hodges' request to block shipments of weapons-grade plutonium, which could begin arriving in South Carolina as early as this weekend.


AP Photo

Hodges has threatened to use state troopers to block roads into South Carolina's Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex, and said he would lie down in the road if necessary to stop the plutonium-carrying trucks.

Hodges' attorney William Want said the governor would appeal immediately.

The U.S. Department of Energy ( news - web sites) has said it intends to begin shipping the plutonium as early as Saturday from its Rocky Flats weapons installation in Colorado to the Savannah River Site, where the material would be converted into nuclear reactor fuel over the next two decades.

Hodges sued to stop the shipments, fearing the government would fail to find the money to convert the plutonium and end up leaving it in South Carolina. He warned that the plutonium would "paint a bull's-eye on South Carolina" and make it a terrorist target.

The state argued Thursday that the Energy Department failed to complete environmental impact statements, a process that can take years, and backed out of signing a binding agreement that the plutonium would be stored in the state only temporarily.

"We don't know the most basic thing about what they're planning to do," Watt told U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie.

However, the judge ruled that the state had not provided enough proof of any violations to stop the plutonium from being shipped.

An Energy Department spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.

The government plans to ship about 6 tons of plutonium from Colorado to the South Carolina site.

The plutonium had been set to begin arriving May 15, but the shipment was postponed after Hodges sued the Energy Department on May 1.

The Energy Department argued that Hodges' attempts to block the shipments were unconstitutional and were preventing the federal government from cleaning up and closing Rocky Flats.

Energy Department lawyer Robert Daly told the judge there was no harm in shipping the material to Savannah River then deciding later how to dispose of it.

"It doesn't matter if there's a clear exit strategy for 10 years," Daly said.

An Energy Department employee from Rocky Flats told the judge that 600 cans of the material were ready for transport. And Allen Gunter, an employee at the Savannah River Site, said that two facilities are under construction to handle the fuel conversion, one to be operational by May 2003, and the second to running six months later.

Hodges, a Democrat up for re-election, has long accused President Bush ( news - web sites) of trying to remove the plutonium from Colorado to help get Sen. Wayne Allard ( news, bio, voting record), R-Colo., re-elected and restore GOP control of the Senate.

Hodges also argued that transporting the plutonium 1,500 miles from Colorado to South Carolina is too risky. Federal officials said the nuclear material would be under constant guard, and its path and time of arrival would be kept secret.