The state of South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Energy are now in talks to potentially settle a multimillion-dollar plutonium-related court case.
On Wednesday, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Margaret M. Sweeney filed an order stating the court had been "advised" that the state and the DOE, represented as the U.S., were "engaging in settlement negotiations" over a demanded $200 million. The state initially sought the money because the DOE had not removed weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina in a timely manner, according to court documents.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said the state is "continuing to pursue the litigation" but is also keeping all options and avenues open.
An update on the settlement negotiations is required no later than Nov. 26, according to Sweeney's order. Updates will be required every 60 days beyond that, as well.
Federal law mandated – 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.
South Carolina launched a legal offensive when the deadline and requirements were not met.
On Oct. 10, the National Nuclear Security Administration terminated the MOX project contract. MOX, an incomplete facility at the Savannah River Site, is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors.
The state's in-limbo Court of Federal Claims case was first filed Jan. 8, according to court records. An amended complaint – which asked for the $100 million from 2016, the $100 million from 2017, interest and legal fees – was filed March 6.
"Unfortunately, proving accurate the prior concerns expressed by the state, the secretary and DOE have ignored their statutory mandates and commitments to the state and have failed to process or remove weapons-grade defense plutonium … or provide any of the economic and impact assistance payments owed to South Carolina," the amended complaint reads.
A response from the DOE in July argued the department could not disburse the millions of dollars to South Carolina "because Congress made no appropriations available for DOE to make any such payments."
"Because the United States is not liable in the absence of available appropriations, the court must dismiss the complaint," the July 5 response continues.
The notification of settlement proceedings comes about one week after U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and the state attorney general visited the White House to discuss the future of the MOX project with President Donald Trump.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty attended that summit, as well.
Inquiries made to DOE proper were not immediately returned.