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Media, energy officials reach agreement on nuclear documents

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         SOUTH CAROLINA         Secret Courts         Jun 19, 2002    

Media, energy officials reach agreement on nuclear documents

  • Government attorneys permit media access to documents about long-term plutonium storage at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Media outlets and the U.S. Department of Energy worked out a deal on June 13 to keep certain records concerning plutonium storage in South Carolina open while keeping others closed.

A group of media companies, including the South Carolina Press Association, The State of Columbia, and the Associated Press, filed a motion June 10 asking federal judge Cameron McGowan Currie to keep open records in Gov. Jim Hodges’ lawsuit to block shipments of plutonium from the state.

However, before Currie could hear arguments in federal court in Aiken, S.C., the two sides agreed to seal only a few of the documents the department wanted classified. Later that day, Hodges lost his own suit to keep the weapons-grade radioactive material from entering South Carolina. He plans to appeal.

The media claimed that the documents, which describe long-term plans and reactor designs for storing plutonium at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, qualify as disclosable information. However, the energy officials asked the court in a broad request to seal the documents under the federal Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information statutes.

Attorney Jay Bender, who represented the media companies, called the department’s motion to seal the documents “overbroad and overreaching.”

On May 1, Hodges sued the Energy Department to block nearly 2,000 cans of weapons-grade plutonium from being stored in South Carolina. The shipments and their disposal formed a vital part of disarmament treaties between the U.S. and Russia. Energy officials argued that the shipments must occur in a timely fashion according to the treaties in the interests of national security. However, Hodges wanted to delay them until more in-depth environmental studies could be done and pledged to dispatch state troopers to physically stop the shipments at the border.

Currie said she would determine at a later date whether the sealed documents should be classified.

(Hodges v. Abraham) MFS

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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