Originally created 01/25/02

Plutonium deal is not finalized



South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges and the U.S. Department of Energy tried again Thursday, without success, to reach an agreement on plutonium shipments to the state.

Two Energy Department officials visited Mr. Hodges in Columbia to discuss the issue, but did not sign a "memorandum of agreement" that the governor presented, said Cortney Owings, Mr. Hodges' spokeswoman.

"There are a lot of questions we don't have answers to, and the Energy Department is still very reluctant to sign a binding agreement with the state," Ms. Owings said.

The governor met with Ambassador Linton Brooks, assistant energy secretary and deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, and Ed Siskin, assistant deputy administrator for the agency's Office of Fissile Materials Disposition, Ms. Owings said.

Joe Davis, an Energy Department spokesman in Washington, said he could not comment on the meeting until he spoke to the officials who attended.

Mr. Hodges' memorandum would have laid out a timetable for plutonium treatment at the Savannah River Site and removal of the radioactive metal from the state, Ms. Owings said.

The document also would have committed the Energy Department to long-term funding of the mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel project at SRS.

That project is responsible for the planned shipments of plutonium to the federal nuclear weapons site. The MOX plan would dispose of 37.4 tons of surplus plutonium by using it in fuel for nuclear power plants.

The Bush administration announced Wednesday that it would provide $300 million in fiscal 2003 to begin construction of the MOX facilities. The project is expected to cost $3.8 billion.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com