Last week, South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges ordered state troopers to physically prevent the Department of Energy from transferring excess weapons-grade plutonium from the Pantex Plant in Texas, the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado and the Hanford Site in Washington to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where it would be converted into fuel for nuclear power reactors.
DOE shipments of nukes and fissile materials – which terrorists would love to get their hands on – are heavily guarded. Furthermore, the guards have orders to prevent – at all costs – any of our nukes from getting loose.
Fort Sumter, d?j? vu?
Perhaps not. U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie countermanded Hodges’ orders. But, Hodges says he’ll appeal Judge Currie’s order to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Why involve the Supreme Court? Well, the plutonium transfers to South Carolina were pursuant to the U.S.-IAEA-Russia Trilateral Agreement, signed by President Clinton back in 1997. The U.S. Constitution – which the Supreme Court “interprets” – gives the president the authority to enter into such international agreements.
Hodges opposes its implementation and swears he is “not willing to let the federal government turn our state into the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.”
Well, in the first place, much of that plutonium was originally produced at the Savannah River Site. Furthermore, when Clinton decided to convert a small fraction of our excess weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel for power plants, South Carolina fought tooth-and-nail to have the fuel fabrication facility built at the largely defunct SRS, rather than in Texas, Colorado or Washington, where almost all the excess plutonium was then stored. Finally, the MOX fuel made from the plutonium is to be burned in nuclear power plants in North and South Carolina to generate cheap electricity for Hodges’ constituents.
So why blast away at Fort Sumter?
Well, Hodges is running for re-election in a state that went heavily Republican in 2000. So, Democrat Hodges charged that dastardly Republican Bush had changed the agreement Hodges had made with his old Democrat buddy-roo Clinton.
And change it, Bush has. But for the better.
In order to keep U.S. and Russian weapons-grade plutonium out of the hands of terrorists, Bush and Putin have agreed to convert all – not just a small fraction – of our excess plutonium into MOX fuel. The value of South Carolina’s victory over Texas, Colorado and Washington – in terms of job creation and economic activity – just went up an order of magnitude. As soon as the voters of South Carolina realize that, there will be dancing in the streets.
Which brings us to the real reason Hodges opposes the Bush and Putin plan for thwarting nuke terrorists. Disposing of excess weapons-grade plutonium as MOX fuel will probably result in a worldwide rebirth of nuclear power. Greenpeace and other supporters of Hodges would – literally – rather you soccer moms got nuked in your jammies than for there to be a worldwide rebirth of nuclear power.
Thus, the arguments and tactics Hodges has used in South Carolina are exactly the arguments and tactics Greenpeace has used for more than 20 years in attempting to kill nuclear power by stopping international shipment of spent fuel to – and MOX fuel from – reprocessing plants in Europe.
President Carter hated nuclear power. So he prohibited reprocessing of U.S. spent fuel. Carter claimed that if plutonium was chemically separated from the highly-radioactive fission products, terrorists would steal it and make nuclear weapons. President Clinton went even further, claiming that spent-fuel plutonium was a greater temptation to terrorists than was weapons-grade plutonium.
When Clinton took office, President Bush had already agreed to help the Russians – financially and technically – “blend” down their weapons-grade plutonium into MOX reactor fuel.
Clinton, however, was not about to help the Russians reduce the terrorist threat if it meant jump-starting nuclear power. So Clinton offered to assist the Russians if, and only if, we could jointly agree on how to dispose of – under the watchful eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency – not only the Russian plutonium, but also an equivalent amount of U.S. plutonium. The resulting Trilateral Agreement took – as Clinton intended – almost five years to negotiate, and implementation has only just now begun.
Now, another President Bush is in charge, and he – unlike Carter and Clinton – properly views weapons-grade plutonium to be the bigger loose nuke threat. Hence, his decision to make MOX fuel out of all of our excess plutonium, rather than a small fraction. What’s next? Well, how about providing the Russians the financial and technical assistance his father promised them a decade ago?