You have permission to edit this article.

Federal appeals court to hear arguments in Savannah River Site plutonium fines case

Alan Wilson with Mic ARC (copy)

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson pictured here speaking at an Aiken Republican Club luncheon.

South Carolina's years-long legal battle to reap millions of dollars in plutonium fines from the federal government will be reviewed by an appeals court in early May.

Oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are scheduled for May 5, records show. The judges assigned to the case will be announced that morning.

The upcoming hearing in Washington, D.C., is the latest development in a long line of legal back-and-forth as well as judicial maneuvering by the Palmetto State.

South Carolina first sued the federal government, namely the U.S. Department of Energy, in early 2018, seeking $100 million. Months later, the state's legal team amended its complaint and began pursuing $200 million.

The sum demanded by the state represents two years, 2016 and 2017, of fines levied against the Energy Department for failing to remove plutonium from the Savannah River Site south of Aiken.

Federal law mandated beginning in 2016 that the DOE pay South Carolina $1 million for each day – up to 100 days per year – the department did not process plutonium at the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility or get 1 metric ton of the material out of the state.

The Energy Department's weapons-and-nonproliferation agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration, axed the never-completed, multibillion-dollar MOX project in October 2018. The flagging project at the Savannah River Site was more than a decade in the making and a favorite of Palmetto State politicians.

Federal Claims Judge Margaret M. Sweeney tossed South Carolina's case in August 2019. The judge ruled the courts were not the right avenue to pursue the plutonium payout and that the fines could only be paid if Congress set aside money for them. 

"DOE does not have unfettered, unrestricted funds available," the federal government argued late last year.

Sweeney's dismissal came after the two parties tried, and failed, to find common ground and settle the matter.

During those negotiations, the federal government was accused of lowballing, and in a separate letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said the Energy and Justice departments were effectively ignoring the state.

About 11½ metric tons of surplus plutonium remain at the Savannah River Site as of late February.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News

Columbia Breaking News

Greenville Breaking News

Myrtle Beach Breaking News

Aiken Breaking News