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Contractors for nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River Site accused of misusing federal funds

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The U.S. Department of Energy nixed the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (above) in 2018 after more than $7.6 billion was spent on the project. The contractors behind the failed nuclear fuel factory are being accused of misusing federal funding intended to help workers relocate. File/Provided/High Flyer

The contractors behind a failed nuclear fuel factory at the Savannah River Site are being accused of misusing federal funding intended to help workers relocate to South Carolina and Georgia.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in South Carolina alleges the contractors for the now-canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility handed out federal money to employees who never actually moved for their jobs. 

The false claims lawsuit was filed in Aiken in January 2019 and wasn't unsealed until earlier this month. The litigation adds to a growing number of lawsuits leveled against MOX Services and Orano. 

The federal government filed a separate false claims lawsuit against some of the same companies last year, alleging their employees accepted kickbacks from an equipment supplier on the project. 

Those contractors were responsible for building a one-of-a-kind nuclear facility intended to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear power plants. The massive project and nuclear program cost federal taxpayers more than $8 billion before it was officially cancelled in 2018. 

The newly unsealed lawsuit deals with federal relocation bonuses. Those bonuses were given out by the Department of Energy to help employees offset some of the costs of moving closer to the Savannah River Site. 

Instead, the lawsuit alleges the contractors illegally handed out those bonuses to workers who never actually relocated for the nuclear project near Aiken. 

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The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Peter Wanco Jr., who previously worked as a quality-control inspector for the nuclear contractors. He's also suing his former employers for firing him after he refused to sign off on inspections he did not believe met federal standards. 

Chris Kenney, one of Wanco's attorneys, declined to comment about the lawsuit because the litigation is  pending. Orano declined to comment about the allegations. 

According to the lawsuit, Wanco personally experienced how the federal contractors misused the relocation money. 

He was hired at the Savannah River Site in 2016 after leaving a job at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County. He told his new employer at Orano that he would stay in Irmo, where he'd been living with his family, and that he would commute to the Aiken area. 

Nonetheless, officials at Orano gave him a federal relocation bonus of $21,000, and allegedly told him to use the money "any way he liked." 

“We don’t require proof or receipts on how you use the money," his new employers allegedly said. 

The lawsuit does not allege how many other relocation bonuses may have been misused by the federal contractors. 

If the contractors lose the lawsuit, they could be forced to pay Wanco and the federal government back for any misappropriated money. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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