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Hodges, Abraham wrangle over SRS

After months of bickering, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges have agreed to a schedule for shipping plutonium to and from Savannah River Site.

Now they're arguing about how to make it final.

The governor continued to push Friday for the U.S. Department of Energy to enter the agreement, reached in principle Thursday, through a consent order in federal court.

The order would legally bind the department to live up to its end of the deal, Mr. Hodges said.

But Mr. Abraham said such an order is out of the question, calling it "of dubious legality and propriety."

An order would give the courts power over a U.S.-Russian accord to dispose of excess plutonium, a dangerous radioactive metal used in nuclear weapons, Mr. Abraham said.

It also would give third parties a chance to derail the agreement in court, the secretary said.

"It would be wholly irresponsible for the country to attempt to conduct its national security and foreign policy affairs through the judicial process, but that is what we effectively would be committing ourselves to doing," Mr. Abraham wrote Friday to Mr. Hodges.

Instead, the secretary wrote, the two sides should get Congress to make their agreement law. Mr. Abraham's letter ended with a handwritten request for the two sides to "work together to get this legislation done in the next 30 days."

But that solution is unacceptable to the governor because shipments could begin before a law is passed, said a spokeswoman for Mr. Hodges.

"That's just not something that Governor Hodges would stand for," Cortney Owings said. "A consent order would allow the situation to be resolved in no longer than two weeks. Legislation could take several months.

"Governor Hodges' proposal is far more reasonable."

Mr. Abraham said he would issue an order Monday for shipments to begin in 30 days, whether the agreement had been signed or not.

Mr. Hodges said he will block those shipments - lying in the road, if necessary - if the Energy Department tries to make them before the deal is finalized.

The two sides have feuded since last summer over the plans to send surplus plutonium to SRS.

The radioactive metal, which can cause cancer if inhaled or ingested even in relatively small doses, would be sent from the Energy Department's Rocky Flats site in Colorado. The agency must close that site by 2006.

The Energy Department wants to build new plants at SRS to turn 37.4 tons of plutonium, once intended for weapons, into fuel for nuclear-power plants.

But Mr. Hodges said he feared that his state would become a permanent storage site for the metal if the Bush administration reneged on plans to build the new plants.

The governor wrote Friday to the congressional delegations of South Carolina and Colorado, asking for help in getting Mr. Abraham to enter a consent order.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or

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