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By Tim Smith
COLUMBIA -- U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond filed legislation Thursday that would fine the federal government $1 million a day if plutonium sent to the Savannah River Site stays too long.
Gov. Jim Hodges, who Wednesday sued the U.S. Department of Energy to block pending shipments of plutonium, said through a spokesman he wanted to review what was filed before commenting.
"We need to make sure this has the teeth in it that it needs, that it addresses all our concerns and make sure all the parties sign off on it," said Jay Reiff, Hodges' spokesman. "If that's the case, the governor will withdraw his lawsuit."
Hodges has said Graham's proposal was not tough enough.
But Graham said a bipartisan federal law "is the best protection for South Carolina from being the permanent storage site for plutonium."
"No legislation is ever perfect," he said. "However, to sue and lose without any protection would be disastrous."
The Energy Department wants to ship 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium to the Savannah River Site near Aiken to begin a program to convert the deadly bomb material to mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.
A spokesman for the Energy Department said Thursday the agency hopes the governor will join Graham and Thurmond to help pass the legislation and "withdraw his ill-timed, unnecessary and counterproductive lawsuit."
The legislation would require that if the MOX plant is not running by 2009, the agency would have two years to begin producing one ton of fuel or remove the same amount from South Carolina. If it doesn't do either, the bill requires the agency to begin paying $1 million per day until it does, Graham said, up to $100 million per year.
In 2017, if the goals were still not met, the bill would require DOE to remove all the plutonium it sent and to pay $1 million a day for each day the material remains without the plant meeting its goals, Graham said.
Hodges wants fines indexed for inflation and for the Energy Department to halt shipments until the legislation is passed. The shipments from a closed Colorado weapons plant are to begin May 15.
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