April 2002

Governor of S.C. is ready to defy feds - Plan in works to block plutonium

Associated Press, April 23, 2002
By Page Ivey

[Posted 24/04/2002]

NEW ELLENTON, S.C. - State troopers and transport police officers held a drill Monday to practice what they would do to keep weapons-grade plutonium out of South Carolina and the federal government's Savannah River Site.

About three dozen officers took part in the exercise ordered by Gov. Jim Hodges, who's been locked in a dispute with the U.S. Department of Energy about shipments of plutonium from Colorado to South Carolina. Hodges, a Democrat up for re-election this year, had threatened to lie down in the road if necessary to block the shipments.

A tractor-trailer owned by the state pretended to attempt to enter the old nuclear weapons complex at U.S. Highway 278 and state Highway 19 about 13 miles east of Augusta, Ga. The four-lane road was blocked on both sides by patrol cars.

In a matter of minutes, two officers had persuaded the driver of an escort vehicle to turn around.

Officials said they didn't know whether it would be that easy when trucks carrying plutonium and escorted by armed federal officers make the same trip to the site.

Hodges, who was on hand for the drill, said the state will do "whatever it takes" to keep the plutonium shipments out of South Carolina unless DOE signs an agreement for the treatment and removal of the radioactive material.

The Energy Department plans to reprocess the plutonium into fuel to be used in commercial nuclear reactors. Hodges worries that project might be abandoned and the material might be stored in South Carolina permanently.

The governor was told last week that shipments could begin as early as May 15. He said state officials will have a good idea of when the plutonium will leave the Rocky Flats facility and what route it will take.

That, Public Safety Director Boykin Rose said, will make it a little easier to guess which one of the 69 roads will be used to enter South Carolina. Rose refused to say Monday whether Georgia officials are offering any assistance to keep the material out of the state.

There are six or seven roads into the sprawling Savannah River Site, which made plutonium for nuclear warheads during the Cold War, Rose said. There also is at least one railroad line.

Monday's drill was successful, Rose said, but neither he nor Hodges would speculate on whether the standoff would be more dangerous.

"I think they'll turn around," Hodges said. "(But) we'll take whatever steps are necessary to keep the plutonium out of here."

Hodges and Rose said they didn't know how much the drill or patrolling would cost the state, which is suffering through budget cuts this year and looking at major spending reductions for next year. Hodges said he is sure it would be "tens of thousands of dollars."

He said the state would still be adequately patrolled by troopers despite the planned blockade.

"We're willing to give up a few speeders to keep plutonium out of the state," Hodges said.

Several Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, have said they will work to create legislation to satisfy the state's concerns about the plutonium. Others, such as GOP gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Charlie Condon and Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, have called the governor's stance nothing more than election-year posturing.

Copyright (C) 2002
The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co. All Rights Reserved.

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