S.C. governor sends troopers to stop plutonium shipments

By Jacob Jordan, The Associated Press
Saturday June 15, 2002

Moving plutonium across state’s highways is illegal 


COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Jim Hodges ordered state troopers and other authorities to South Carolina’s borders Friday to stop federal shipments of plutonium that could begin arriving from Colorado as early as this weekend. 

“I order that the transportation of plutonium on South Carolina roads and highways is prohibited,” Hodges said. “I order that any persons transporting plutonium shall not enter the state of South Carolina.” 

Hodges, who has vehemently opposed the shipments, read a statement declaring a state of emergency but refused to answer any questions about specific plans for roadblocks or other barricades at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site, a nuclear weapons complex near Aiken. 

On Thursday, a federal judge refused to block the shipments of weapons-grade plutonium. Hodges appealed the ruling and asked for a delay until the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could hear the case. 

The Energy Department plans to move the material from the Rocky Flats weapons installation in Colorado, which is being cleaned up and closed, to the Savannah River Site, where the material would be converted into nuclear reactor fuel over the next two decades. 

But Hodges has said he fears the government will end up leaving the plutonium permanently in South Carolina, making the state a tempting target for terrorists. 

“The Department of Energy has broken promises, offered no assurances and left few options. Once plutonium arrives, it will never leave,” Hodges said. “They want South Carolina to quietly become the nation’s plutonium dumping ground.” 

The shipments legally could begin as early as this weekend, but U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. said Energy Department officials told him they would not start until after June 22. 

A message left for an Energy Department spokesman was not immediately returned Friday afternoon. 

Vice President Dick Cheney, in South Carolina on Friday for a fund-raiser, said the fuel-conversion program is important to ensure that plutonium “never falls into the wrong hands.” 

“This administration is totally committed to helping pass legislation to guarantee that South Carolina does not become a permanent storage site for plutonium,” Cheney said. 

Hodges, a Democrat who is up for re-election in the fall, has threatened for weeks to use troopers to block roads into the Savannah River Site and has vowed to lie in the road if necessary to stop the trucks. 

Sid Gaulden, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said traffic would still flow along the state’s roads. He acknowledged the department does not have enough resources to close every entry point to the state. 

About 6 1/2 tons of plutonium are to be shipped from Colorado. 

Federal officials have said the nuclear material would be under constant guard, and its path and time of arrival would be kept secret. They also say security at the Savannah River site is sound.