AIKEN, S.C. - State troopers are still
carrying out Gov. Jim Hodges' executive order banning plutonium from
state roads, but they have dramatically scaled back their efforts
since the federal government announced it won't begin shipments
until next weekend.
"The troopers and state transport police are riding in the area,
making sure nothing suspicious comes through," said Sid Gaulden, a
spokesman for the S.C. Department of Public Safety. "They're
monitoring things visually."
On Thursday, a U.S. District Court cleared the way for the U.S.
Department of Energy to begin moving plutonium from its Rocky Flats,
Colo., plant to its Savannah River nuclear facility near Aiken, 160
miles southwest of Charlotte.
Under a disarmament pact with Russia, the department plans to
turn 34 metric tons of plutonium into mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel to
be used in Duke Power's Charlotte-area nuclear power plants.
Hodges fears the MOX plans will fall through, and South Carolina
will wind up storing the plutonium indefinitely. He wants a
court-enforceable date the substance will be removed.
On Friday, Hodges said the plutonium poses an immediate hazard to
the people of South Carolina. He ordered all roads closed to
plutonium until a court orders him to lift the blockade.
Shortly afterward, the Energy Department announced it would not
be able to send plutonium until next Saturday. Gaulden said the
public safety department has pulled back its effort until then.
"We will be back out there in force," Gaulden said. "Basically,
we're standing by until they say they're coming."
Meanwhile, Hodges is still waiting to hear whether the 4th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals will schedule a date to hear his
last-minute appeal of the District Court's decision. Hodges had
asked the shipments be delayed until the Energy Department completed
environmental studies he said weren't done. The court ruled against
him, and Hodges appealed immediately.
The courts may be the last chance to resolve the issue and avoid
a standoff between the governor and the Energy Department.
Negotiations between the department and the S.C. congressional
delegation appear to have stalled.
U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., of Seneca, and Sen. Strom
Thurmond, R-S.C., of Aiken, several months ago introduced bills that
would penalize the Department of Energy if the MOX program never got
off the ground. The department agreed to the compromise, but Hodges
opposed it, saying it wouldn't prevent the government from
depositing plutonium in the state for several decades.
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said Graham still hopes for a
compromise. But since Hodges sued in May, the Energy Department has
refused to negotiate.
The same appears true of the Democrats' side. A source close to
Hodges said there have been no direct talks with the federal
government recently, although U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., of
York, and others may still be working on legislation Hodges would
agree to. -- STAFF WRITER HENRY EICHEL CONTRIBUTED TO THIS
-- JENNIFER TALHELM: (803) 327-8507; JTALHELM@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM