A big-league band of Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility supporters spoke together Friday evening in Aiken County, criticizing the U.S. Department of Energy for its plans to kill the controversial nuclear facility.
U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson; S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson; the governor's legal counsel; members of the Aiken County legislative delegation; Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon; and Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker were all there, assembled neatly behind a lectern at the Aiken County Government Center.
Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was the first to speak. He opened the press conference by announcing those in attendance were "team South Carolina" and "team Central Savannah River Area."
U.S. Sens. Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) and Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC); SC AG Alan Wilson (@AGAlanWilson); and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (@RepJoeWilson) just wrapped up a MOX presser in #Aiken County. Full story to come @aikenstandard #scpol #sctweets #nuclear pic.twitter.com/bFpOlOldq8— Colin Demarest (@demarest_colin) May 25, 2018
The senator, though, quickly transitioned to MOX, an approximately 70-percent complete facility at the Savannah River Site designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial reactors. Graham described it as "taking a sword and turning it into a plowshare."
On May 10, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry submitted a waiver to Congress, which, among other things, began the MOX termination clock and certified dilute-and-dispose as the right path forward.
Dilute-and-dispose, a plan Graham and Scott vehemently believe won't work, involves mixing plutonium with inert material for storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
"The administration has now announced that they are going to shut down MOX," Graham said. "We think that is an ill-conceived idea."
"Said differently, if we want to eliminate the weapons-grade plutonium, we must use MOX," Scott, another South Carolina Republican, said.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said the DOE "does not have a solid plan for what it's doing."
"New Mexico has been very clear that their state is not an option," Scott said Friday.
Graham said MOX – more than a decade in the making, the result of an in-limbo U.S.-Russia pact, and billions over budget at this point – is worth finishing. He blamed project delays on Congress "not really" weighing in and doing their part.
"We want promises made to be kept, we want the MOX program to be completed more efficiently. We don't want it to be terminated to be replaced by an idea that will never come about," Graham said.
On the same day Perry submitted his waiver, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense recommended transforming MOX into a plutonium pit production complex. Pits are nuclear weapon cores. The recommendation included working side by side with Los Alamos National Laboratory, where pits have been made most recently.
A day before Friday's press conference, Graham told a U.S. Senate appropriations committee the MOX debacle is a "cluster," comparing it to "the swamp."
On Friday, Graham expounded: "Well the swamp to me represents a federal government that will come up with an idea, over a long period of time, get 70 percent of the building complete and figure out, 'Hey, that costs too much.'"
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson followed up on the senator's remarks.
"I think today we're all here to say, enough, enough," he said.
The attorney general also touched on legal actions, filed Friday, that were foreshadowed in a May 22 letter sent to Perry.
The latest lawsuit contests the looming closure of MOX, and the May 22 letter specifically challenged Perry's waiver.
"These are viable lawsuits, otherwise we wouldn't bring them," Wilson said. "Remember, I mean, we're applying the law that the federal government passed. So these are their words, not ours."
Wilson has successfully sued the DOE before.