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 email@example.com.