SRS Sign

The entrance to the Savannah River Site, a federal nuclear complex near Aiken.

The state of South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Energy still believe a consequential, multi-million-dollar plutonium-related court case can be solved sans a judge.

In an update filed Nov. 26, as required by U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Margaret M. Sweeney, the parties jointly stated "it is possible to resolve the pending disputes without judicial resolution."

On Oct. 23, the state and the DOE notified Sweeney that settlement negotiations had begun. Sweeney hit pause on the related lawsuit as a result.

Another settlement update is expected by Jan. 25, 2019, according to court documents.

At stake in the Federal Claims case — which was first filed in January and was then amended in March — is $200 million plus interest and legal fees.

The state, led by S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, initially sought the money because the DOE had not removed weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina in a timely manner, according to several court documents.

Wilson at the start of November said he and his legal team were "exhausting" all options available regarding the lawsuit and the potential settlement. He would not go into further detail, though.

Federal law commanded, beginning Jan. 1, 2016, the DOE pay South Carolina $1 million for each day, up to 100 days per year, the department failed to process weapons-grade plutonium via the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility or more generally remove 1 metric ton of it from the state.

On Oct. 10, the National Nuclear Security Administration killed the MOX contract in full, effective immediately. The NNSA is a semiautonomous DOE agency.

The $200 million represents fine totals from 2016 and 2017. More recent fines — stemming from 2018, for example — are another story, Wilson said.

In July, the DOE argued it could not disburse the millions of dollars because the funds were not properly appropriated.

"Because the United States is not liable in the absence of available appropriations, the court must dismiss the complaint," the DOE's response reads.

The NNSA over the summer signaled its intent to send the 1 metric ton out of the state for assimilation into the nation's nuclear weapon stockpile.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin