An injunctive order that would move plutonium disposition forward in Aiken County will have to wait until at least July.
U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs signed an order giving all parties until July 31 to develop a jointly written statement that will be used to frame the order. The previous deadline was April 21.
Childs previously ruled the U.S. Department of Energy failed to comply with an agreement to dispose of 1 metric ton of weapons grade plutonium by Jan. 1, 2016.
South Carolina sued the DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration, NNSA director Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in February 2016, saying the defendants reneged on their obligations to dispose of plutonium or make $1 million a day "economic assistance payments."
Childs ruled the federal government failed to dispose of plutonium as agreed, but refused to issue any financial sanctions. Her order asks all parties to develop a joint statement to determine exactly what the injunction will say.
The April 20 order to delay comes at the request of the DOE and its codefendants.
According to court documents, the DOE's budget is only funded through April 28.
In addition, the DOE cited difficulty in coordinating with a number of program offices and officials, "a process which is complicated by the fact that a number of leadership positions at DOE are not presently filled."
The motion goes on to say that settlement negotiations will continue. If an agreement can't be reached by the deadline, then both parties will submit individual statements, court records state.
The DOE missed the Jan. 1, 2016 deadline because the mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County isn't built yet.
Once operational, MOX will convert plutonium stockpiles into fuel for commercial reactors. It's presently about 73 percent complete, sources familiar with the project say.
The plutonium disposition is part of a nuclear deal with Russia, both nations agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of defense plutonium. An NNSA news release from 2011 heralding the MOX deal said that's enough plutonium to make 17,000 nuclear weapons.
Russia suspended, but didn't withdraw from, the agreement in 2016. While not citing MOX directly, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited "unfriendly" practices by the U.S.
Both nations were supposed to begin disposition in 2018, the NNSA news release said.