Just when it looked like the standoff between South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges and the U.S. Department of Energy was about to explode into open warfare, DOE blinked.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was slated to start shipping plutonium to the Savannah River Site for reprocessing this coming Wednesday - a move that is strongly opposed by Hodges unless the governor can get ironclad assurances that the plutonium will be shipped somewhere else if Congress pulls the plug on the reprocessing program.
Then late last week the Energy agency decided to delay the shipments until June 15 so a federal judge can hear Hodges' legal arguments against the shipments. The June 13 hearing, to be held in Aiken, takes the controversy out of the political circus and puts it in the courts, where it belongs.
Meantime, U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., is making a complete fool of himself, not to mention hurting his cause, by introducing a bill that would, in effect, kill the reprocessing program at SRS. Just as Hodges is determined to keep unwanted plutonium out of his state, Allard, in a tough re-election race, is desperate to move out of his state tons of plutonium now at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility.
Allard hopes his bill will bully Hodges into taking the plutonium or face losing the multibillion dollar, job-creating reprocessing mission. But instead his bill plays into Hodges' fear - that once the plutonium enters South Carolina it will stay there forever, untreated.