A federal court has ruled the Energy Department must remove a metric ton of plutonium from a former nuclear weapons site.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling for the agency to remove the plutonium from the Savannah River Site in Aiken County by early 2020. The material was supposed to be used in the experimental Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel project to convert plutonium from old warheads into nuclear reactor fuel. However, the Energy Department moved to terminate the project last week after it fell years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
The state Attorney General’s Office first revealed the ruling on Friday. “This is a victory for the rule of law,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “It doesn’t get much clearer than this. Congress passed a law requiring that the plutonium be removed and the Department of Energy has not followed that law.”
State officials have insisted the Energy Department must either finish work or remove the plutonium. A 2003 federal law which moved the material into SRS also required the plutonium be removed by 2016 if the project was not finished. South Carolina sued in February 2016 after it became apparent the Energy Department was pulling out of the MOX project.
State officials claim they are entitled to a $100 million fine each year since, under the terms of the 2016 deadline. State Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office is in negotiations with Energy Department attorneys for a potential settlement.