COLUMBIA - South Carolina needs
additional assurances that it won't become a permanent storage site
for the nation's plutonium beyond those found in legislation
announced this weekend, U.S. Rep. John Spratt said.
While the two sides are coming closer to agreement, more work
needs to be done to hold the U.S. Department of Energy to a strict
timetable for dealing with the material, said Spratt, D-S.C., on
"What the governor is seeking, what I am seeking, is some firm
assurance that if plutonium comes to South Carolina, it will be
proces-sed expeditiously and be transferred out of state as quickly
as possible," he said.
DOE has in-formed South Carolina it could begin sending
weapons-grade plutonium to the Savannah River Site near Aiken in
May. The department plans to convert 34 tons of the material into
mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for nuclear reactors as part of a
U.S.-Russian agreement to dispose of the nuclear weapon components.
Gov. Jim Hodges has threatened to stop shipments of the toxic,
radioactive material if DOE doesn't enter into a binding agreement
to convert the plutonium or get it out of the state. Lawmakers have
been working to create such an agreement through legislation.
U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham,
R-S.C., announced Saturday that DOE had agreed to pay fines of $1
million a day, up to $100 million a year, if the department has not
made at least one ton of mixed-oxide fuel or removed one ton of
plutonium from the state by 2011.
Under Graham's proposal, the plutonium would have to be
completely removed from the state by 2017 if the federal government
has not built a MOX facility. Other-wise, DOE would face the same $1
million a day penalties.
The penalties are "a strong indicator to DOE that they're
supposed to abide by this legislation," Spratt said. "I think it's
important, but it only triggers in certain circumstances."
Spratt's concern is that the agreement could allow DOE to escape
penalties, perhaps by shipping out some of the plutonium or making a
minimum amount of MOX. He also would like legislation to contain a
timetable for the actions DOE must take.
Spratt and Hodges are making recommendations to Graham on how the
legislation can be improved.
While Graham believes the legislation protects South Carolina,
all the parties continue to work to come up with an agreement before
the plutonium is shipped, he said.
"I am confident if people want an agreement, we will get one,"
Graham said. If South Carolina does not get an agreement and takes
the issue to court and loses, the state "will be left holding the
"At end of day you're going to lose in court against the federal
government," he said.
Graham said he hopes to reach an agreement on the legislation
soon. If an agreement is reached, he will ask the DOE not to shift
the plutonium to SRS until the legislation passes and ask the
governor to agree not to sue DOE.
Contact Gene Crider at (803) 256-3800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.