Attorneys representing the state of South Carolina have asked a federal judge to allow construction work to continue on a plutonium processing plant at the Savannah River Site.
The state Attorney General’s Office is asking for an injunction that would stop termination on the multi-million-dollar project by the U.S. Department of Energy. District Judge Michelle Childs heard arguments on the motion Tuesday in Columbia.
“If that occurs, the MOX project is dead,” attorney Randy Lowell said.
Attorneys told the judge the state was notified that the Department of Energy has issued a full stop work order effective June 11. The facility known as the MOX project would convert unused plutonium into mixed oxide fuel for use in nuclear reactors.
Lowell also argued that if the project is terminated, tons of unprocessed plutonium will remain in South Carolina because the Energy Department has no plans to transport it elsewhere.
“The practical effect of this decision, in terminating the MOX program, turns the Savannah River Site into a storage facility for plutonium,” Lowell told the judge. “We’re stuck with the plutonium.”
Attorney General Alan Wilson attended the hearing. His office is representing the state in the case.
Energy Department attorneys insist Congress has decided to stop work on the project by refusing to provide funding for it. On average, the DOE said the project is costing $1.2 million dollars a day.
“What a dangerous precedent the state is setting,” the DOE attorney argued, saying that South Carolina’s injunction request is a “severe threat to the supremacy law.”
The DOE attorney also argued that the claim that the plutonium would remain at the Savannah River Site was “rhetoric” and “unfounded.”
“That’s just speculation,” he said.
The attorney also argued that Congress was concerned about the growing cost of the project, which he said would eventually cost $50 million and take another 30 years to be operational. Members of Congress pressured Energy Secretary Rick Perry “to find an alternative,” the attorney said.
“This is part of the appropriations act,” he said. “The law is very clear.”
“It’s just more evidence that — how badly that the whole project has been managed,” said Tom Clements, Director of environmental watchdog group Savannah River Site Watch. “How deeply in trouble that it is right now and that there’s no easy decisions that can be made about what’s going to happen with the MOX project with the way forward.”
“We don’t think the MOX project is viable,” he said. “From technical or financial aspects and that it’s just a matter of time before its going to be terminated. It’s just been collapsing within the last few years.”
If the construction is shut down, about 1,300 people could lose their jobs.
“The downside is workers and their families would be impacted if the project is terminated and we don’t want to see a repeat of what happened when South Carolina Electric and Gas terminated 5,000 workers with no notice at the V.C. Summer project,” Clements said.
Attorneys for the state of South Carolina plan to file a reply brief Wednesday and are asking the judge make a decision by Friday.