SC suing Department of Energy over MOX suspension

It could be a major economic blow for our area. Just weeks ago, the president


News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Mar. 18, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- Standing beside South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, Congressman Joe Wilson, and state lawmakers from Aiken, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had strong words for President Barack Obama and the Department of Energy

"When you're hurting the people of South Carolina, we're not going to stand back and take it." Governor Haley said. "We're going to fight, we're going to be loud, we're going to kick hard, and we're going to do whatever it takes to make sure that D.C. hears us."

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama released his budget. The budget calls for placing the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site on "cold stand-by."

Roughly $4 billion has gone into the construction of the MOX project, and construction is 60% complete. The goal of the project is to turn weapon-grade plutonium into safer nuclear fuel for commercial reactors. The first of its kind facility in the United States was born out of a 2000 agreement with Russia. The agreement requires both United States and Russia to dispose of 68 metric tons of plutonium collectively, which is sufficient for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.

However, with the impending suspension, the future of the project is up in the air.

"This is why, earlier today, I filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of the State of South Carolina," says Attorney General Wilson.

Wilson says, by law, suspending the project is illegal. The State of South Carolina named the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy Edward Held, and even Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz as defendants.

"This violation of the Constitution not only terminates the MOX facility. It terminates approximately 1,800 jobs of South Carolina's hardworking citizens," Wilson said at the heavily attended news conference.

After the announcement, Wilson sat down for an exclusive interview with News 12.

"They are [running] around the will of Congress, and they are violating federal law as well as the Constitution," he says.

The massive project was expected to employ 1,800 at SRS, which would support thousands of more jobs in the community. However, construction delays and billions of dollars of cost overruns made the DOE look for a cheaper, quicker alternative.

"[The National Nuclear Security Administration] is evaluating alternative plutonium disposition technologies to MOX that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost effectively," the DOE's proposed budget reads.

In a press conference, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz estimates the project's life-cycle cost would be upwards of $30 billion.

Governor Haley says the ballooning price isn't her concern. She says it's the federal government's job to fix the cost overrun it helped create.

"You know what? You started it. I don't care how you fix it, but you need to find a way to fix it," Haley said to the DOE.

"We are now a nuclear waste dumping ground, and the side effect of that is 1,800 people could lose their jobs," adds Wilson.

Additionally, Haley expects the U.S. may soon hear from a disgruntled Russian government, since MOX was a partnership between the two countries.

"I think right now is not the time we need to be messing with the Russians," she told News 12.

Meanwhile, Wilson and other lawmakers are trying to put a stop to what they say is unconstitutional.

"And the folks in Aiken County and the CSRA better care a lot about this, because there is no plan to fix it. We're stuck with that plutonium as they do the cold shutdown," says Representative Bill Taylor of Aiken.

There's still no word when possible lay-offs will begin.

Follow Chad Mills on Twitter for live updates.

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