Workers at an experimental nuclear fuel site under construction near Aiken will not lose their jobs — at least yet.
A federal judge granted an injunction Thursday to prevent the Energy Department from shutting down the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility until she’s had a chance to rule on the state of South Carolina’s lawsuit. District Judge Michelle Childs halted any potential work stoppage that had been expected on Monday, impacting hundreds of jobs at the Savannah River Site.
“We are very pleased with the judge’s ruling today,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “The court’s decision is based upon the rule of law and common sense. This is a victory for the people of South Carolina and the safety of all South Carolinians.”
“We’re incredibly grateful for Judge Childs in recognizing South Carolina’s argument that closing MOX on Monday would have caused our state irreparable harm,” Wilson told the South Carolina Radio Network. “We’ve taken the position that MOX has a long and tortured history of broken promises by the federal government.”
The Trump administration has argued the project to convert plutonium warheads into nuclear fuel is far over its original budget and faces billions more in future funding. Wilson sued to prevent the government from shutting down work, arguing the feds have no timeline to dispose of the highly-radioactive plutonium on-site. They are also concerned about the hundreds of construction and future site workers affected. DOE wants to dilute the material and dispose of it in New Mexico.
Energy Department lawyers argued Congress effectively approved the shutdown by not setting aside funds to continue operating MOX. Congress agreed to the dilute-and-dispose method recommended by DOE.
“One of the problems we’ve had with the federal government is that at every single turn there’s been a broken promise and a failure to follow the law to the letter,” Wilson said. “And that’s all South Carolina wants from the federal government. We want them to keep their promises and we want them to follow the law.”
An environmental group which opposes the project said it was disappointed with the ruling. “The judge is concerned, as we all are, about obligations by the federal government to remove plutonium from the state, but the MOX plant construction would not be finished until 2048 at the earliest and likely never operate,” Savannah River Site Watch director Tom Clements said in his own statement. “Disposal of plutonium as nuclear waste must be pursued over the unsustainable MOX option.”