COLUMBIA — An economic development group is seeking to be part of South Carolina’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy for the agency’s failure to meet a Jan. 1 nuclear fuel deadline.
South Carolina Alliance filed papers in federal court Thursday seeking to intervene. The nonprofit represents impoverished areas near Savannah River Site and says it will be affected financially whether the mixed-oxide project is completed or not.
The plant – which is behind schedule and billions over its original budget – is intended to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel. It’s intended to help the U.S. fulfill an agreement with Russia to dispose of at least 34 metric tons apiece of weapons-grade plutonium.
Since the plant isn’t operating, by law the federal government was supposed to remove 1 metric ton of plutonium from South Carolina by Jan. 1 or pay $1 million a day for “economic and impact assistance,” up to $100 million yearly, until either the facility meets production goals or the plutonium is
taken out of state for storage or disposal elsewhere.
South Carolina sued earlier this year, seeking to force the Energy Department to remove plutonium from the state or pay the fines. In its court filing, the alliance says its constituents would benefit from the plant’s productivity, as well as the fine money that should come if it’s never completed.
It should be allowed to intervene, the alliance argues, because its interests in the lawsuit “are necessarily more localized and focused” than those of the state and therefore need to be separately represented.
The Energy Department has not responded to the lawsuit in court or commented on it otherwise. The motion for intervention, which needs court approval to move forward, points out that it has been opposed by attorneys representing South Carolina in the lawsuit.
An attorney who traditionally represents the state did not immediately respond to an e-mail Friday.