Progress on the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site was impeded by faulty gloveboxes, sealed containers that were key to the now-null disarmament and nuclear fuel mission, according to arguments made in court documents first filed early last year.
MOX Services, the lead contractor for the MOX project, in January 2018 sued Flanders Corporation for doing allegedly shoddy work and failing to live up to their agreement, which paid out more than $1.6 million.
The firm accused Flanders Corporation of "repeatedly" missing deadlines and providing products and work with "numerous obvious defects," according to court documents.
More specifically, MOX Services in two complaints said gloveboxes made and delivered by the subcontractor were deficient, and welds did not meet strict muster.
The MOX facility – officially terminated Oct. 10, 2018, by the National Nuclear Security Administration – was meant to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. That stockpile, enough for hundreds and hundreds of nuclear weapons, was designated surplus in a 2000s-era pact between the U.S. and Russia.
Only some of that 34 metric tons is currently stored at the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear reserve 30 minutes south of Aiken and hours northwest of Charleston. A majority of the plutonium destined for MOX never made it to the site, an NNSA official told the Aiken Standard earlier this year.
Gloveboxes, typically large enclosures with windows and ports for a worker's arms, are used to safely handle and inspect hazardous materials, like plutonium. Dealing with the alleged glovebox hiccups stunted the already halting project, MOX Services argued.
The fuel facility, never completed, was axed after more than a decade of work and after billions of dollars had already been spent. The project – a favorite of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, both South Carolina Republicans – had come under fire from both the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations.
NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty in a mid-June interview with the Aiken Standard said attitudes toward MOX soured when future fuel sales came into question.
"So, once they realized that there really would be no customer base, if you will, or limited customer base for this, the previous administrations had decided it probably wasn't worth going forward,” said Gordon-Hagerty, who is also the U.S Department of Energy's under secretary for nuclear security.
Overspending, too, was a top concern, she added.
Trump's energy secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was the one to formally deliver the MOX death blow. In May of last year, he informed members of Congress he would end the project, a power provided to him via the National Defense Authorization Act.
"We took the proposal to the secretary ... and the secretary agreed with our recommendation to shutter the MOX facility, and terminated that May 10 of last year," Gordon-Hagerty said in June. "So I remember that date well."
In its lawsuit, MOX Services sought more than $75,000 in damages from Flanders Corporation, among other things. In responses filed with the court, Flanders Corporation denied the accusations levied against it.
The feuding parties, though, recently reached a settlement agreement, according to a joint notification filed earlier this month. No payment has been finalized, according to the same notification.
Mediation happened throughout August, according to court documents.