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Graham urges quick filing of waste bill

State's position on plutonium could be weakened otherwise, congressman says

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Of The Post and Courier Staff

     The agreement to allow plutonium storage at Savannah River Site should be filed in Congress this week, or the state's position could be severely weakened, U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham said Monday.
     Graham's comments came as Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and Rep. John Spratt were still holding out as they tried to get certain points resolved or clarified.
     Monday's shuffling makes it clear that Saturday's announced proposal was still far from getting all sides onboard.
     Graham, in a conference call with reporters, said his plan is the state's best option because it makes the SRS agreement binding with Congress and doesn't risk taking a national defense issue before a judge.
     He also said that if he can't get across-the-board support from the delegation, he might go forward with the support of fellow Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond.
     "If for some reason we can't get an agreement in the state, I'm going to introduce legislation I think protects the state ... because if we go to court and lose, we've got no protection," Graham said.
     According to details released by Graham, he has proposed that plutonium from Rocky Flats, Colo., come to SRS where it would be converted to mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) for use by commercial nuclear reactors.
     If by 2017 the MOX plant isn't operating, then all the plutonium would have to be removed or the Energy Department would face a $1 million per day fine.
     If DOE hasn't produced one ton of MOX fuel by 2011, then it would have to remove one ton from the state or again pay $1 million a day.
     Other protections are that DOE must keep Congress abreast of its progress - which would identify conversion failures or delays - and the elimination of arbitrary completion times for the fuel changeover, Graham said.
     "I'm trying to protect South Carolina from holding the plutonium bag," he said.
     Graham's comments came as_ Spratt advised Hodges earlier Monday not to rush into signing the deal. Spratt, whose support is needed to pass a bipartisan bill in Congress, sent Hodges a memorandum saying several issues need to be settled because of awkward language, particularly in regard to requirements on the federal government.
     "We don't think the language is clear yet," said Rudy Barnes, Spratt's legislative director.
     Barnes declined to discuss specifics about the deal because it is still in draft form. But, broadly speaking, he said that some of the wording about when and how long penalties for non-compliance are triggered against the Department of Energy is troubling.
     Spratt's aide said the congressman wasn't trying to push Hodges either way on the Graham proposal, only to warn him that there were still many unclear points, including in language about enforcement mechanisms. "Everybody's very sensitive on this," Barnes said.
     Those concerns over wording were sent to Graham late Monday night.
     Hodges, who has vowed to lie down in the streets to stop plutonium from entering South Carolina, wants nothing shipped into South Carolina until Congress passes an agreement, which is signed by the president. The Energy Department says it can start shipping the plutonium on May 15, although Graham said he expects the agency will delay shipments by at least a week if his deal moves forward.
     Hodges' office said Monday that the governor is still evaluating the deal and wants to see all the fine print before committing, said spokeswoman Cortney Owings.
     Graham and Hodges also talked about the deal late Monday. Graham said he had no problem with fine-tuning the language. "Plutonium doesn't know a Democrat from a Republican," he said. "It needs to be a business deal."

     Schuyler Kropf covers state and local politics. Contact him at or 937-5551.

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