Plutonium convoys to hit South Carolina highways without warning

| 6/26/2002

South Carolina officials likely won't get official warning from the federal government on when scheduled plutonium shipments will arrive. Instead, officials may find out only after the shipments pass a weigh station.

The U.S. Energy Department has said for security reasons it will not disclose when the shipments leave Rocky Flats, CO, or when they arrive at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, SC. Federal agents will escort the semis loaded with barrels of smaller cans of weapons-grade plutonium and will be authorized to use deadly force to protect the shipments.

Other than spotting the convoy, authorities likely won't know the plutonium has crossed the border until the rigs pass a weigh station. The trucks won't stop. Instead, the lead vehicle reportedly will pull into the station and warn officers the plutonium truck is approaching.

The shipments have been delayed since last fall because of an ongoing dispute between Gov. Jim Hodges and the DOE. Hodges sued the department and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to halt shipments of the plutonium, fearing the radioactive material would not be disposed of once arriving in Aiken.

A judge threw out Hodges' lawsuit and the governor's appeal is scheduled to be heard July 10 by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court in Virginia. Hodges had also threatened to lie down in the road to block the shipments, but was ordered not to impede traffic by a federal judge.