COLUMBIA - A day after Gov. Jim Hodges
filed a lawsuit to block shipments of weapons plutonium headed for
South Carolina, U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, and U.S. Sen.
Strom Thurmond introduced legislation also intended to protect the
state from becoming a permanent storage site for plutonium.
The bills introduced by Graham and Thurmond would require the
federal government to pay a fine if it does not reprocess the
plutonium into nuclear power-plant fuel by a fixed date.
As recently as the weekend, Democratic and Republican elected
officials were working together with the U.S. Department of Energy
on proposed legislation. Over the weekend, Graham announced the
department had agreed to pay fines if the reprocessing program never
got off the ground.
But early this week, Hodges countered that Graham's plan was
unacceptable because it doesn't do enough to push the federal
government to remove the plutonium from the state. Graham said
Hodges' conditions were unworkable.
When the governor sued, he "chilled promising negotiations,"
Graham said in a statement. Graham said he introduced the bill to
protect the concessions the state had already won from the
Department of Energy.
"An ill-conceived confrontation without an adequate backup plan
could result in South Carolina holding the plutonium bag," Graham
said in the statement. "No legislation is ever perfect. However, to
sue and lose without any protection would be disastrous."
The Department of Energy plans to dismantle nuclear bombs as part
of a disarmament agreement with Russia. As early as May 15, the
department plans to send truckloads of plutonium from its Rocky
Flats, Colo., facility to the Savannah River Site near Aiken, 160
miles southwest of Charlotte.
At the SRS, the radioactive substance would be turned into
mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel to be used in Duke Power's Charlotte-area
Hodges has threatened to use state troopers to block shipments
unless the department will guarantee the plutonium will eventually
be removed from the state.
Hodges, Graham and U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-York, worked last
week and through the weekend with the Department of Energy to draft
a bill all sides could agree to outlining when plutonium could come
to the state and when it would have to be removed.
Early this week, however, it was clear Hodges and Graham
disagreed on fundamental points of the proposed legislation.
Graham announced over the weekend that the department had agreed
to a bill that would require it to pay a fine if it does not begin
producing or removing one ton of plutonium by 2011 and the plutonium
is not completely removed by 2017.
Hodges and Spratt supported a draft of a bill that would require
the department to remove plutonium from the state even if the MOX
program works smoothly, setting more milestones for the department
to meet and give more assurance that the plutonium would be
When he filed suit Wednesday, Hodges said he wanted to protect
the state's interests and keep its options open. He said he would
drop the suit if state officials could reach agreement with the
Department of Energy.
Hodges spokesman Jay Reiff said the governor's office had
received only a press release from Graham's office Thursday, so
Hodges hadn't been able to evaluate the legislation.
"We have to review the fine print ... to see if it gets the job
done," Reiff said. "The devil is in the details."
Spratt was unavailable for comment. Spratt aide Rudy Barnes said
Spratt had no immediate plans to introduce his own bill on the
Hodges' lawsuit argues the Department of Energy neglected to
complete environmental studies required before moving plutonium to
Department spokesman Joe Davis said in a statement that the bills
introduced by Graham and Thurmond and the work everyone has done to
reach a compromise were appreciated.
"Unfortunately, the recent filing of a lawsuit by Gov. Jim Hodges
runs completely counter to any effort to work together to reach a
solution," Davis said in the statement. "We hope that the governor
would join his own delegation in Congress and work to pass this
legislation, and withdraw his ill-timed, unnecessary and