Originally created 07/10/02

Hodges to argue his case



COLUMBIA - After losing a federal court fight to block plutonium shipments to Savannah River Site, Gov. Jim Hodges' lawyers are set to make their case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today.

"We're looking forward to our day in court," Hodges spokesman Morton Brilliant said Tuesday.

The appeal turns on the argument that Mr. Hodges has made for months: The Department of Energy will break its own rules if it ships plutonium to South Carolina from Colorado.

The weapons-grade plutonium is destined for SRS as the government works to close Colorado's former nuclear facility at Rocky Flats. The Energy Department plans to eventually convert the material into commercial nuclear fuel called mixed oxide. A plant to convert the material is being designed.

"We will have a fair review and hearing on the matter and let the judges decide," DOE spokesman Joe Davis said.

Mr. Hodges has been trying to keep the plutonium out of South Carolina until there are firm guarantees the material won't stay in the state indefinitely.

The 4th Circuit last month refused to temporarily block the shipments. Mr. Hodges doesn't know whether the shipments have begun.

"We don't comment on any aspect of the shipments, including when it left and when it arrived" if it was shipped, Mr. Davis said. "It's classified."

Mr. Hodges' lawyers will argue the case before Judges Robert King, Emory Widener and Paul Niemeyer.

In a U.S. District Court in Aiken, Mr. Hodges had argued that the agency failed to complete necessary environmental impact statements; violated the national environmental policy act; and backed out of a promise that the weapons-grade plutonium would be stored only temporarily at SRS.

U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie said Mr. Hodges didn't provide enough proof of violations to stop the plutonium from being shipped.

A group of Aiken and Barnwell leaders had asked Judge Currie to allow them to seek compensation from the Energy Department for plutonium shipments. One of their lawyers, Neil Robinson, said shipments of "the most deadly substance known to man" were tantamount to the government taking property away from citizens.