of S.C. is ready to defy feds - Plan in works to block plutonium
Associated Press, April 23, 2002
By Page Ivey
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
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
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
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.