Haley backs plutonium removal, reasserts MOX lawsuit

Gov. Nikki Haley

Gov. Nikki Haley is applauding the federal government’s plans to remove six metric tons of plutonium from the Savannah River Site in Aiken, but still expects to cash in on the up to $100 million owed to South Carolina over a missed milestone at the site’s MOX facility.

The six metric tons of plutonium is not part of 34 metric tons outlined in the controversial MOX agreement. However, the plutonium stockpiles in both cases could be used to make weapons, which is why the federal government wants to dispose of the material.

In Tuesday’s federal register, plans were announced to use facilities at SRS to dilute the plutonium and dispose of it at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

During a phone call last week, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Haley about the plan to remove the plutonium from the state. The phone call followed her March 23 letter to Moniz, demanding that he halt or reroute another 331 kilograms of Japanese plutonium from coming to South Carolina.

The Japanese material is still expected to arrive, though the government declined to speak about it for security reasons.

The six tons of plutonium will be processed over the next five years at SRS and shipments to New Mexico will begin after the processing is complete. Another seven tons of surplus plutonium still resides at SRS but the federal government says it has not identified a “preferred alternative” to dispose of the material.

In a statement from Haley on Tuesday, the governor said the plutonium removal is a “big win for South Carolina, but we will continue to watch this process carefully, as the Department of Energy has not lived up to promises made in the past.”

Her comments are based on another plutonium issue impacting South Carolina: the unfinished SRS Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. The facility is part of the nation’s MOX program, which is designed to meet an agreement with Russia by converting 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel.

Haley recently reminded Moniz that South Carolina is suing the Department of Energy and others for missing a deadline at the MOX plant.

Per a 2003 agreement signed by the state and Department of Energy, either 1 ton of the MOX plutonium was supposed to be processed through the facility or removed from the state by Jan. 1, 2016. Neither happened, which is why, according to the agreement, DOE was supposed to begin paying South Carolina $1 million a day or up to $100 million annually.

After a month of waiting for DOE to address the matter, the state filed suit on Feb. 9.

“We will not back down from our lawsuit until the DOE pays the $1 million a day fine they are required to under federal law,” Haley said.

In addition to the aforementioned plutonium plans, the federal government has plans to remove an additional 1,431 kilograms of plutonium and uranium from foreign countries by 2022. South Carolina, by way of SRS, is expected to see most, if not all, of the material at some point.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry