South Carolina sues Energy Department over MOX shutdown

COLUMBIA — The state of South Carolina is suing the U.S. Department of Energy and others over federal plans to shut down Savannah River Site’s mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility intended to turn nuclear weapons material into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

 

Gov. Nikki Haley and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon at a news conference in Columbia.

The lawsuit involving the MOX project was filed in U.S. District Court in Aiken and names the DOE, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is managing the massive construction project, as defendants.

The lawsuit accuses the agency of using money that Congress approved to build the project to shut it down. The project is billions of dollars over budget.

“We will fight. We will fight back hard,” Haley said. “And we will do whatever it takes to make sure they understand they have messed with the wrong state.”

In the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, the MOX plant was placed on “cold standby” while assessing other more cost-effective methods to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium. The NNSA began almost immediately consulting with contractors to shut down the construction project, which is about 60 percent complete.

Haley criticized the Obama administration for abandoning the project and its commitment to the state to dispose of nuclear waste.

“They made a promise to the people of South Carolina that they were going to do something with that plutonium. They cannot, for whatever reason this is, suddenly decide that they are going to go on cold standby. That’s not how we do business in South Carolina,” Haley said.

The announcement came on the heels of the NNSA budget proposal released over the weekend that confirmed the escalating costs of MOX. Life-cycle costs of the program were estimated at $30 billion.

Environmentalist Tom Clements, a critic of MOX, blasted the lawsuit, saying the state has no money invested in the project and no regulatory role.

MOX has evolved from a plutonium disposition program to a jobs program backed by state politicians, he said.

“Any lawsuit being filed by the State of South Carolina is being done for political reasons and will simply be a waste of taxpayer money,” said Clements, an advisor for the S.C. chapter of the Sierra Club.

The decision to put the project on hold has been met with opposition from some South Carolina Republicans, including Rep. Joe Wilson.

“The president’s reckless decision endangers our national security and confirms that the administration has no intention of following through with the federal government’s obligations to South Carolina as nuclear material remains in the Palmetto State without a foreseeable exit path,” Wilson said in a statement.

Wilson and U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott wrote a March 7 letter to Haley urging her to explore legal action over the MOX shutdown, saying it violates an international nonproliferation agreement between Russia and the U.S. to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium each.

After the press conference, Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, said he was worried the 1,800 MOX workers would leave the area, taking their skills elsewhere in search of new jobs.

Associated Press reports were used in this story.

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MOX facility at Savannah River Site placed on standby while alternatives assessed
Federal report calls for MOX cost analysis
Waste processing facility for MOX project will sit unused
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