South Carolina’s suit against the Department of Energy requests $100 million in construction delay penalties.
The saga of the construction of the Mixed-Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in Aiken, S.C., contains elements of everything that can go wrong in the federal construction process.
The MOX facility was touted by Congress as a state-of-the-art method for disposing of plutonium from nuclear bombs by turning it into commercial reactor fuel.
According to an article in The New York Times, by James Risen, “the plant is being built to comply with an agreement with Russia in 2000, when both countries said they would eliminate 34 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium from their arsenals.”
At the time Congress-authorized construction advocates of the facility such as Rep. Joe Wilson of S.C., argued that MOX technology is “the only viable method at this time of disposing of the plutonium.” (The New York Times)
Construction has not gone well. “Even proponents of the program have long said the Energy Department badly managed it.” (The New York Times)
The facility, according to ENR, was scheduled to begin “producing fuel by Jan. 1, 2016.”
At that point, according to Mr. Risen, the plant was only half complete. “The Energy Department has already spent [as of February 2016] about $4.5 billion on the half-built plant near Aiken, S.C…, New estimates place the ultimate cost of the facility at between $9.4 billion and $21 billion, and the outlay for the overall program, including related costs, could go as high as $30 billion.” (The New York Times)
The state of South Carolina filed suit against the Department of Energy asking, among other things, “payment of $1 million per day—or an annual maximum of $100 million—“in construction delay fees. (ENR)
That part of the lawsuit was dismissed by the federal judge on Feb. 8, 2017. “The judge ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction to consider the claim and, instead, ordered the parties to conduct mediation proceedings.” (ENR)
Now the federal government claims MOX technology is impractical. It wants to abandon the project and bury the nuclear waste in Carlsbad, N.M. (The New York Times)
There does not appear to be a positive outcome for this boondoggle.
Half-Built Nuclear Fuel Plant in South Carolina Faces Test on its Future, James Risen, The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2016.
Judge Nixes SC’s $100M Claim Over MOX Construction Delays, ENR, Feb. 20/27 2017.