COLUMBIA - Politics raised its election-year head again Tuesday in South Carolina's plutonium fight with the U.S. Department of Energy.
The political give and take has never been far from the almost daily fray between Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and Republicans in Washington over the DOE's plans to ship tons of weapons-grade plutonium to the Savannah River Site for conversion to nuclear reactor fuel.
South Carolina officials worry the conversion program will never be funded and the plutonium will remain in the state indefinitely. Mr. Hodges sued the federal agency a week ago to halt the shipments.
The politics of the plutonium debate kicked into high gear Tuesday as the DOE's spokesman blasted Mr. Hodges for using campaign money to pay for ads opposing the shipments.
"It is a well-established tradition in this country that matters of national security and foreign policy are viewed as nonpartisan and certainly should never be politicized for personal gain," Energy spokesman Joe Davis said the day after the ads began airing.
"Against that backdrop, it is irresponsible for Governor Hodges to use the plutonium disposition program in political television advertisements for his re-election campaign. We hope that other responsible leaders in South Carolina would disassociate themselves with this unprecedented move by the governor," he said.
"This is not a national security issue," Mr. Hodges' spokeswoman Cortney Owings said. "There is ample evidence that DOE's motivation behind shipping plutonium from Colorado to South Carolina now is to help (Republican) Sen. (Wayne) Allard's re-election bid," she said.
Mr. Hodges and fellow Democrats have accused Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a former GOP senator, of helping Mr. Allard's re-election chances by moving the radioactive material from Rocky Flats to SRS.
Mr. Hodges is using $100,000 from his re-election funds to run a 30-second ad that takes energy officials to task for "breaking their promise" not to make South Carolina a nuclear dumping ground.
The ad shows Mr. Hodges at a practice blockade that may be used in an effort to turn back the shipments that could begin as early as May 15. It urges residents to "stand with Governor Hodges" and to call Washington and tell federal bureaucrats "no plutonium dumping in South Carolina."
The ads are a politically smart move by Mr. Hodges, Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen said. It gets Mr. Hodges on the air in a statewide advertising campaign in the midst of ads for Republicans seeking the gubernatorial nomination.
And it's a strong message, Mr. Thigpen said. "You can't go wrong in South Carolina standing up to the federal government," he said.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., even got into the action Tuesday and asked Mr. Abraham to delay the shipments for at least a month.
Mr. Thurmond, who at 99 is retiring after his current term, has introduced legislation along with Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to end the dispute between Mr. Hodges and DOE. Mr. Graham is running for Mr. Thurmond's seat.