|Friday, May 10, 2002
- WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Energy dispatched a team of
experts to Rocky Flats on Thursday to find ways to keep the former
nuclear bomb factory on track for closure in 2006, after it agreed
to delay shipments of plutonium from the facility until at least
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham had said that shipments to the
Savannah River Site in South Carolina had to begin by May 15 to meet
the 2006 deadline. But now officials say that the shipping date
might be flexible.
DOE wanted to give a federal judge time to hear arguments in a
lawsuit filed by South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges seeking to block the
shipments. A hearing has been set for June 13 in South Carolina.
The federal government is spending $7 billion to decontaminate
Rocky Flats and turn it into a wildlife refuge. That means moving 6
tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the plant in northeast
Jefferson County to the Savannah River site, where a $3.8 billion
"MOX," or mixed oxide, fuel facility is to be built to recycle it
into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.
The DOE team was sent at the request of Gov. Bill Owens and U.S.
Sen. Wayne Allard, both Republicans, who said they're worried that
Hodges' opposition could push closure past 2006.
Democrat Hodges and the Bush administration have been in a
standoff for weeks because the governor says DOE hasn't provided
sufficient guarantees that the MOX plant will be built. Cancellation
of the plant would leave South Carolina as "the nation's nuclear
dumping ground," Hodges said. In addition to filing suit, he's
threatened to lay down in the road or send out the state highway
patrol to stop the shipments.
Allard filed a bill Thursday that would punish South Carolina for
Hodges' resistance. He wants to order DOE to move the MOX plant,
costing the state 1,300 jobs, and to look into shutting down the
Savannah River nuclear weapons plant. The plant already employs
"The governor of South Carolina has convinced me through his
words and actions that his state is no longer interested in having
the MOX facility at Savannah River," Allard said in a statement.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., is well-known for working to bring
projects to his home state and keep them there. But he made no
pledge to fight to keep Savannah River open.
"I was concerned that the recent filing of a federal lawsuit by
the governor could jeopardize current and future jobs at the
Savannah River site. It is now apparent that my concerns were well
founded," Thurmond said in a statement.
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., who has quietly backed Hodges,
didn't return calls.
Political experts questioned whether Allard, as a freshman
senator in the minority party, has the power to prevail over
Thurmond and Hollings - two of the most senior members of the
"It comes down to a question of which state's senators have more
power, and if this was a contest we'd have to stop it after one
round," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Governmental
Studies at the University of Virginia. "Colorado would lose."
Sabato said he believes that Thurmond failed to immediately
oppose the bill because he is "letting Allard score some rhetorical
points" because of his re-election challenge in Colorado this