COLUMBIA — South Carolina political leaders were hopeful after meeting President Donald Trump on Thursday that the White House will work to finish a struggling nuclear fuel factory at the Savannah River Site.
"The president was certainly open to our comments and our concerns," U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, said. "The fact of the matter is we’re looking for ways to keep the president engaged and not simply allow the Department of Energy to do what they have done in the past, which is to use a set of numbers that we simply do not agree with. Overall, we had a very productive conversation with the president and are hopeful that he is listening to our concerns and that we will hear better direction heading in the next few weeks.”
The Palmetto State political leaders did not receive any promises from Trump that he will overrule Energy Secretary Rick Perry, but they said they were encouraged by Trump's willingness to consider keeping the project alive.
The president is considered the last hope in saving the factory, meant to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial fuel, and the more than 1,000 jobs tied to the project.
“Gov. (Henry) McMaster appreciates President Trump’s time and attention and his commitment to resolve this matter in a manner favorable to South Carolina," McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said.
South Carolina is looking for a way to remove the dangerous fuel used for nuclear weapons from the Savannah River Site and political leaders, like U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, don't think the Department of Energy has an adequate backup plan.
"Stopping a program ... and replacing it with a new half-baked program that won’t work is yet another example of what is wrong with Washington," Graham said. The Seneca Republican added that he told Trump that "South Carolina continues to violently disagree with the decision to terminate the MOX program."
The White House did not respond for request to comment Thursday.
The project, known as MOX, or the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, has been on the chopping block for years.
More than $7.6 billion in taxpayer money has been spent over a decade on the the Aiken County project marred by delays, cost overruns and millions in questionable spending. The MOX factory would need another $48.8 billion to finish construction.
After years of effort, Congress finally voted to pull the project and the Department of Energy told contractors this week to stop work.
Efforts to kill the fuel factory in the past have led South Carolina’s Republican leaders to file lawsuits, revive funding and discredit federal reports criticizing the delayed project.
Now they have gone straight to the White House.
After meeting with Trump, Graham blamed the project's struggles Thursday on inadequate government funding and the factory contractors, which include Chicago Bridge & Iron — one of the contractors on the failed $9 billion V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion in Jenkinsville.
The senator also took a swipe at the Department of Energy, saying the agency "has badly mismanaged this program but they should bear the responsibility for that mistake, not South Carolina.
"If DOE moves forward and scraps the MOX program, I will view it as the federal government breaking its commitment to South Carolina," Graham said. "I will push back, and push back hard, should they take that action.”
Andy Brown contributed to this report.