South Carolina leaders are making a last-ditch appeal to President Donald Trump after the U.S. Energy Department moved last week to terminate an experimental nuclear fuel plant under construction in Aiken County.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Henry McMaster and state Attorney General Alan Wilson are scheduled to meet with the President this week about the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Fabrication facility, Graham told a business group on Saturday.
The MOX project would have converted plutonium from nuclear warheads into reactor fuel. However, the project has hobbled along for several years now as the Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration sought to kill it amid spiraling costs and years of delays. The agencies got permission from a federal appeals court last week to begin closing down the site despite a lawsuit from the state of South Carolina seeking to continue work. The project’s private contractor indicated this weekend it would follow the termination order.
State leaders are worried about the more than 2,000 jobs connected to the site.
“When something of this magnitude occurs, there’s always concern of an impact,” State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, who represents the region in the state House, said. “Not only on those individuals and their families — although that’s first and foremost — but on the community as a whole.”
The MOX facility, when complete, was supposed to reprocess former nuclear warheads stored at the Savannah River Site as part of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia. However, the project essentially ran out of money and fell years behind schedule as first the Obama administration, then its successor moved to end construction Federal officials had proposed downblending the plutonium and storing it in New Mexico or beginning production of plutonium “pits” or triggers at SRS. But no specific plan is in place at this point.
Taylor is not optimistic, however. He noted this is the second time, after Yucca Mountain in Nevada, that the Energy Department has spent more than a decade on construction before ultimately abandoning work.
“Frankly there is an enormous ineptness on the part of the federal government and particularly the Department of Energy,” Taylor said, claiming anti-nuclear attitudes at the Energy Department carried the day.
Neither Graham’s nor McMaster’s office has indicated what day the elected officials would meet with Trump.