A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Energy Department to remove one ton of plutonium from a nuclear waste site in South Carolina within two years, the state Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday.
Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the Energy Department in August for failing to meet its deadline to either begin processing the former weapons-grade material at the Savannah River Site or move it to a permanent storage site elsewhere.
“This ruling is a vindication of the principle of the rule of law and the state’s position that it will not be a dumping ground for plutonium,” Wilson said in the announcement. “The state thanks the court for holding DOE accountable, although it is unfortunate that the state had to resort to litigation to ask a federal agency to do what the law requires. Now, DOE should turn its attention and resources to complying with the order and the law.”
The lawsuit stems from an ongoing dispute over plutonium brought to the state for an experimental mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility. The project would have converted the plutonium into nuclear fuel, but has been delayed by dramatic cost overruns. A 2003 agreement set a $1 million per-day fine if the center was not operational by 2016. The agreement caps the fine at $100 million per year until 2021 and allows the agency to transfer one ton of weapons-grade plutonium per year off-site to avoid the fine. However, Congress would have to approve any fine payments.
Since the Energy Department had sought a 2025 removal deadline, the two-year window is a setback for the agency. District Judge Michelle Childs also ordered DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and to certify compliance with the two-year deadline.