MOX Poster, SRS Watch Forum

A poster showing the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site. The poster was on display at a recent SRS Watch public forum.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson believes the "deep state" played a sizable role in the shuttering of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, an incomplete nuclear fuel project that was canceled after more than a decade of work and billions of dollars had been invested.

The South Carolina Republican, speaking to the Aiken Standard after an event Tuesday, said he had hoped a change of administration would clear the way for MOX – "have a new day," as he put it. But that didn't happen, vexing the longtime congressman.

"I'm very frustrated," Wilson said, delivering a speech to the Aiken Republican Club.

Joe Wilson, ARC, November Luncheon

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., spoke Tuesday afternoon to the Aiken Republican Club. He took questions from the audience after his speech.

The MOX project at the Savannah River Site had been scrutinized before President Donald Trump entered office. That wariness continued up until the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, axed MOX in October 2018.

Wilson stressed the so-called deep state – a buzzword in today's political climate – isn't necessarily nefarious. "It's just that they have their ways, and it's really tough to turn agencies around, so that's what I mean by deep state," he explained.

In a mid-June interview with the Aiken Standard, NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty noted doing away with MOX at the Savannah River Site was not an idea that originated under Trump's watch. Just the opposite, she said.

MOX, a product of a 2000s-era nuclear nonproliferation pact with Russia, was designed to turn metric tons of surplus defense plutonium into fuel for commercial reactors. The project's timeline had ballooned and its costs had bloated before the contract was suddenly ended. At the time of termination, more than 1,000 people were employed by the project.

Wilson was one of MOX's most ardent defenders. He was among the clutch of officials to rendezvous with the president at the White House last year to discuss the imperiled project's fate.

At the time, Wilson described the summit as productive, as did fellow GOP lawmakers. In a formal statement, Wilson said he was "hopeful" the president would "reverse the Department of Energy's decision and continue moving forward with this critical project." That never happened.

The state of South Carolina did, however, appeal a MOX-related lawsuit to the Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin