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S.C. Governor Loses His Bid to Stop Plutonium Shipments

June 21, 2002|From Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal appeals court Thursday rejected Gov. Jim Hodges' last-minute attempt to stop plutonium shipments from entering South Carolina.

Hodges had sought an order barring the shipments while he appeals a ruling allowing them. The federal shipments from the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado to the Savannah River Site in Aiken could begin as early as Saturday.

Also Thursday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to expedite Hodges' case, setting oral arguments for July 10.

"While I am disappointed the court is letting the Department of Energy ship plutonium into South Carolina this Saturday, I am encouraged by the court's decision to hear our case so quickly," Hodges said in a statement.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said he would continue to work with South Carolina's congressional delegation on the terms of the plutonium program.

The governor has appealed a federal judge's ruling that he didn't present enough evidence that the shipments or long-term storage at Savannah River would harm the public.

If Hodges is able to win his case in July, the state would be able to prevent everything but a "small amount of their shipments," said his lawyer, William Want.

The Energy Department wants to move about 6 tons of plutonium to the Savannah River Site, about 20 miles east of Augusta, Ga., as part of the agency's effort to clean up and close Rocky Flats.

Federal officials say the material will be converted at Savannah River into fuel for nuclear reactors. But Hodges fears the conversion program might never be funded and that the plutonium might be stored permanently in his state.

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