Plutonium shipped to the Savannah River Site would have to be
processed or moved back out of the state, according to legislation
introduced Thursday by Rep. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Strom
The legislation, crafted to protect the state from becoming the
permanent storage site for plutonium, calls for fines of up to $100
million per year if the U.S. Department of Energy fails to meet
strict processing schedules.
The filing comes one day after Gov. Jim Hodges sued the
Department of Energy to prevent the shipment of plutonium from
Colorado to South Carolina.
Graham said the legislation includes "an ironclad requirement
that all plutonium leave the state at a certain date if the (mixed
oxide fuel processing) program fails."
The legislation requires that fines begin if the MOX processing
hasn't started by 2011. If MOX processing hasn't started by 2017,
all plutonium shipped to the state must be shipped back out.
The Energy Department plans to begin shipping plutonium from the
Rocky Flats, Colo., nuclear complex to South Carolina as soon as May
15. The plan is to convert the plutonium to MOX, which would be used
at commercial nuclear power plants in the Carolinas.
Hodges is concerned that the MOX conversion program could be
stopped and that the plutonium could be left in South Carolina. He
has threatened to block the shipments from Colorado until the Energy
Department signs off on an enforceable exit plan.
Hodges filed suit in U.S. District Court in Aiken Wednesday to
stop the shipments, claiming proper environmental impact documents
haven't been filed by the Energy Department.
Hodges spokesman Jay Reiff said Thursday that the governor's
office had not had time to examine the legislation to see if it has
the desired safeguards.
"We need to make sure the legislation has the teeth in it that
was lacking earlier in the week," Reiff said.
The governor also wants a commitment from the Energy Department
that no plutonium will be shipped until the legislation is
Graham, who has been negotiating with the Energy Department, said
the legislative approach would be more effective than a lawsuit. He
said the governor's lawsuit had "chilled" negotiations.
"An ill-conceived confrontation without an adequate backup plan
could result in South Carolina holding the plutonium bag," Graham
said. "No legislation is ever perfect. However, to sue and lose
without any protection would be disastrous."
The legislation would require:
The DOE must report to Congress
on the progress of the MOX program, thereby making program failures
The energy secretary must
certify the MOX program is on schedule or cease shipments to
Savannah River Site;
If the program is not producing
MOX by 2009, the Energy Department has two years to produce one ton
of MOX or remove one ton of plutonium from the state;
Failure to meet the MOX
production requirements by 2011 would prompt fines of $1 million per
day, up to $100 million per year;
If the MOX program isn't
operating by 2017, all plutonium in the state must be removed
immediately, again with fines of up to $100 million per year for
The Energy Department plans to dispose of 34 metric tons of
weapons-grade plutonium as part of an accord it signed with Russia
in 2000. The removal of plutonium suitable for use in nuclear
weapons in the United States and in Russia is a security issue,
The legislation "will reduce the risk of Russian nuclear material
falling into the hands of terrorists who could use it against the
United States," Thurmond said.
Graham and Thurmond, both Republicans, touted the legislation as
bipartisan and urged Democrat Hodges to come aboard. Democratic Rep.
John Spratt's office said he wanted to examine the legislation
before he would sign off on it.
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said the legislation should
address the concerns of the state. He called for Hodges to "withdraw
his ill-timed, unnecessary and counterproductive lawsuit."