The Aiken County Legislative Delegation met with state and congressional officials on Tuesday to discuss the employment and waste implications of the federal government potentially halting funding of MOX.
In a meeting at the South Carolina Statehouse, the delegation met alongside U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.; South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt; Gov. Nikki Haley's Chief of Staff Ted Pitts; and Catherine Templeton, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said the meeting “was a good first step” in developing a plan to recruit more business and industry to the Aiken area.
“The meeting in the governor's office was productive in exploring the multitude of issues surrounding the defunding of the MOX project as proposed in President (Barack) Obama's budget,” Taylor said. “There was also much discussion on the ways the assets of the Savannah River Site can be leveraged for future growth.”
While jobs were a key point, Taylor said there were also discussions on exploring immediate paths the federal legislative delegation may take to maintain MOX funding.
S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, added the United States' agreement with Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium means the nuclear material must exit the Site.
“We have to honor that agreement and get that waste out of there,” Smith said. “We don't want to do anything to end potential job opportunities; but at the same time, we want to protect the jobs we have.”
Also in attendance at the meeting was S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken. Clyburn also voiced his support for the MOX program and the 1,800 jobs it provides to the local community.
“It's devastating to even think about that number of jobs being taken away from our community,” Clyburn said. “We're working on finding ways to preserve those jobs and create new opportunities for the SRS workforce.”
Hitt referenced the state's $5.4 billion in investments recruited to South Carolina in 2013.
“Commerce is committed to working with the local economic development officials in Aiken and all parts of the state to bring more companies and jobs to South Carolina,” he said.
The MOX facility is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. Its work is part of a nonproliferation effort between the United States and Russia to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
The program has undergone significant cost overruns. Most recently, the Department of Energy revealed the results of a study that estimated the life cycle cost of the program could be up to $30 billion.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard.