p0638 BC-PlutoniumStandoff 1stLd-Writethru 08-06 0314

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Plutonium shipment plan bolstered by court ruling

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A federal appeals court Tuesday rejected South Carolina's request to stop the federal government from shipping surplus plutonium into the state.

Gov. Jim Hodges, who has fought with the Department of Energy over the shipments for more than a year, said he plans to appeal the ruling by the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court.

"The weapons-grade plutonium is a threat to the health and safety of our state," Hodges said. "Our final hope lies with the Supreme Court."

Hodges once vowed to use state troopers to turn back the shipments at the border unless he was given legally enforceable assurances that his state would not permanently house the waste.

The Energy Department is moving six tons of plutonium from Rocky Flats, a former weapons plant near Denver, to the Savannah River Site near the Georgia line.

The department plans to eventually convert the material into commercial nuclear fuel.

The appeals court rejected Hodges' contentions that federal officials needed more environmental studies and failed to fully consider the risks of long-term storage.

The appeals court upheld a lower court decision allowing the shipments. Hodges was rebuked by a federal judge when he tried to ban shipments from the state after the earlier ruling.

On Friday, Energy Department officials told Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., that the department had begun shipping the plutonium from Colorado to the site near Aiken, said Allard's spokesman Sean Conway.

DOE spokesman Joe Davis would not confirm the status of the shipments.

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