AIKEN, S.C. – South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges recently threatened to lie down in the road to stop a weapons-grade shipment of plutonium through his state, and he just may have to resort to that.
A federal judge Thursday denied Hodges' request to stop the shipment from Colorado to the Savannah River nuclear research site, ruling that the Department of Energy had the right to transfer the material before deciding how to dispose of it.
In response, Hodges' first step was an appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. He was also signing an executive order authorizing state troopers to shut down roads leading to the site to prevent the shipment, which could begin as early as this weekend. Troopers were headed out to the highway on Friday afternoon.
Shipments were set to begin May 15 from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, but were postponed for a month after Hodges sued the Energy Department on May 1.
Hodges' attorney William Want 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 plutonium would be stored only temporarily at Savannah River.
"We don't know the most basic thing about what they're planning to do," Want said.
The governor said he feared that South Carolina would become a terrorist target if the plutonium were left to sit there indefinitely.
DOE, which plans to convert the plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel over the next two decades, claimed Hodges' attempts to block the shipments were unconstitutional and were preventing the federal government from closing Rocky Flats.
Officials promised that the material would be under constant guard and its travel would be a secret to aid security measures.
U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie agreed with the government, ruling that Hodges failed to demonstrate that violations occurred in a previous environmental-protection arrangement between the federal government and the state concerning the shipment and storage processes.
Currie said Hodges would have to notify the court if he plans to physically block the shipments.
The U.S. Department of Energy praised the ruling. Secretary Spencer Abraham said it protects national security as well as the people of South Carolina.
Hodges, a Democrat up for re-election, has long accused President Bush of trying to get the plutonium out of Colorado. The re-election of Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., is crucial to the GOP's plan to regain control of the Senate.
"This issue should have never reached a courtroom," Allard commented. "The governor of South Carolina should have worked out an agreement with DOE long ago instead of wasting taxpayers' money on delaying tactics."
U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it was time for the Hodges to work on legislation with the South Carolina congressional delegation.
"The judge's decisive ruling to dismiss the governor's action is sound," Graham said. "It is time for the governor to work with the delegation in a constructive manner."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.