MOX, High Flyer, Aerial (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

An aerial view of the mothballed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is located at the Savannah River Site.

The contractors behind the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project at the Savannah River Site are now accused of improperly using federal money and of fostering a hostile workplace, court records show.

In a newly unsealed lawsuit, MOX Services, the lead contractor at the nixed nuclear fuel venture, and Orano Federal Services are charged with a "false claims scheme," in which the teams allegedly doled out relocation money to employees who never actually intended to relocate.

The lawsuit was brought against both contractors on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy and its weapons-and-nonproliferation agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration, by Peter Michael Wanco Jr., who worked at MOX and before that the V.C. Summer power plant in Fairfield County.

Wanco claims he was on the receiving end of one of the relocation bonuses – to the tune of $21,000. He also claims he was forced to quit his job at the fizzled MOX project after raising safety concerns.

The lawsuit was first filed in January 2019. It is unclear how many relocation bonuses were issued over the years; the MOX project was more than a decade in the making.

MOX was designed to turn metric tons of designated-surplus defense plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. The National Nuclear Security Administration, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, terminated the MOX project in October 2018, about seven months after Wanco left.

Costs and timelines at the roughly $8 billion endeavor – described as "one of the largest and most complex fabrication facilities in the world" in the court complaint – had dramatically ballooned by the time the NNSA dropped the ax. A monthslong federal audit of contracting practices and expenses at MOX found millions of dollars of suspicious costs. Details were made public Dec. 12.

MOX Services and the NNSA late last year reached a sweeping $186 million settlement, resolving a bundle of outstanding legal and contracting discrepancies. That agreement was, in information reviewed by the Aiken Standard, described as "the best value to the American taxpayer."

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