New court filings from the US Energy Department suggest South Carolina’s lawsuit against an experimental plutonium facility under construction in Aiken County should be dismissed.
According to the Aiken Standard, the state’s lawsuit filed in February says the Energy Department (DOE) did not meet a 2015 deadline to finish the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) at the Savannah River Site. The facility was originally supposed to be operating by September 2016, but a series of construction problems, cost overruns, and lack of committed buyers have delayed work so that it is unlikely to finish before 2019.
South Carolina’s lawsuit insists a 2003 agreement with the Energy Department includes a $1 million per-day fine if the center is not operational. The agreement also allows the DOE to transfer one ton of weapons-grade plutonium per year off-site to avoid the fine. The agreement caps the fine at $100 million per year.
In its motion to dismiss filed Monday, however, the DOE argueed it is abiding by the latter half of that agreement, and plans to eventually transfer 6 tons of plutonium to another federal facility in New Mexico. The DOE’s motion also claims money claims can only be heard in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The US House and Senate are still debating the site’s future. MOX is supposed to convert former weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel as part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia. But a bipartisan effort to eliminate the expensive project is gaining steam in Congress. A Senate plan cuts the site’s construction budget next year by $70 million, although South Carolina’s delegation in Washington is fighting to keep the project’s funding intact.