SRS MOX, High Flyer, Aerial

An aerial view of the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site.

A judge in South Carolina last week paused a lawsuit involving two prominent Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility contractors and the federal government after it was disclosed the parties were working toward a resolution.

U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs' granted a 30-day stay will help maintain the status quo, certain court documents argue, and prevent unnecessary expenditures – time and money, most likely.

The lawsuit against the two contractors – MOX Services, the lead at the nixed Savannah River Site MOX project, and Orano Federal Services, another big player – was brought by Peter Michael Wanco Jr. on behalf of himself, the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration.

Wanco is a former employee of the multibillion-dollar MOX project, which the National Nuclear Security Administration canceled roughly two years ago in favor of dilute-and-dispose, another means of plutonium disposition.

MOX Services and Orano Federal Services are accused of improperly using federal money and, separately, fostering a hostile workplace. The two are blamed for running a false claims scheme in which relocation money was allegedly doled out to employees who never actually planned on relocating.

Wanco, in January 2019 court documents, alleged he received a relocation package: $21,000, and he commuted to the Savannah River Site from Irmo. The sums of money – exactly how many were disbursed is unclear – were meant to "entice" skilled workers, according to the initial complaint.

Wanco further alleged he was retaliated against at the MOX project and was effectively made to quit his job after raising safety concerns.

MOX was designed to turn metric tons of surplus defense plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. The project, employing more than 1,000 people, was more than a decade in the making, and cost-bloated, when it was axed. Court documents portray MOX, had it been finished, as "one of the largest and most complex fabrication facilities in the world."

The lawsuit was unsealed in January, a little less than one year after the first court complaint was filed.

Colin Demarest covers the SRS, DOE, its NNSA and government, in general. Support his crucial reporting and local journalism, in general, by subscribing. Follow Colin on Twitter: @demarest_colin.