Duncan on DOE, SC Settlement on Plutonium

August 31, 2020
Press Release

Laurens, S.C. - Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC-03) released the following statement on the settlement deal that was recently announced between the Department of Energy and State of South Carolina regarding the weapons grade plutonium being stored at the Savannah River Site:

“I’m very pleased to hear a settlement deal has been made between the Department of Energy (DOE) and State of South Carolina regarding the weapons grade plutonium that remains at the Savannah River Site (SRS). I’ve been fighting for solutions to this problem for years. South Carolina is not a dumping ground for plutonium. In 2018, the DOE made the decision to terminate the construction of the mixed oxide (MOX) facility at SRS. Since then I have raised this issue with the President personally, and to the Administration more broadly through my oversight work on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

“Today, the DOE announced they will remove 9.5 metric tons of the weapons grade plutonium from SRS, provide South Carolina with an upfront payment of $600 million, and assured they remain committed to removing the remaining plutonium from our State by 2037. I appreciate South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s hard work and dedication to this issue, as well as the Trump Administration for delivering to South Carolinians what they deserve.”

 

Background (Courtesy of the DOE):

  • After the Cold War and as part of its national security mission, DOE was challenged with finding a safe, secure method to dispose of large amounts of weapons-grade nuclear material, including weapons grade plutonium. DOE determined that the best option would be to irradiate the material at a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

 

  • As part of the 2002 legislation on the MOX facility, Congress required that in the event the MOX facility failed to achieve its production goals, DOE would be required to remove the plutonium shipped to South Carolina for processing.

 

  • In addition, the statute provided that if the MOX production was not met and the material was not removed by a certain deadline, then DOE would be required to remit economic and impact assistance payments to South Carolina in the amount of $1 million per day for each day that certain milestones went unmet, up to a maximum of $100 million per year.

 

  • In 2018, former-Secretary Perry exercised his right under the statute to terminate the construction of the MOX facility because the inherited project was approximately $13 billion over budget and 32 years behind schedule.

 

  • Currently, 9.5 metric tons of plutonium brought into the state for the MOX facility remain in South Carolina. The next statutory deadline for removal is January 1, 2022, after which DOE would be required to pay $1 million a day, up to a maximum $100 million a year until all the plutonium is removed.

 

  • DOE is committed to removing the plutonium from South Carolina and will continuously work to find the most effective, efficient, and safest way to do so. DOE is currently pursuing removal through the “Dilute and Dispose” process – a process that is proven safe and effective, but is time intensive, guaranteeing that DOE will miss the January 1, 2022 deadline.

 

  • The current timeline projects the 9.5 metric tons will be completely removed by 2049, which means that without the settlement agreement, DOE would be subject to economic and impact assistance payments of more than $2 billion.

 

  • The settlement reached today will allow South Carolina to realize upfront a lump sum of economic and impact assistance payments ($600 million), but will also allow DOE more time (through 2037) to safely remove the plutonium from the state without the threat of lawsuits.

 

Details of the Settlement Agreement (Courtesy of the DOE):

  • Upfront payment of $600 million to the State of South Carolina.

 

  • South Carolina will waive its right to bring any lawsuit against DOE for the removal of the plutonium, and DOE will be relieved of paying statutorily required payments, until 2037. 

 

  • In 2037, DOE will pay a percentage of the accrued statutory payments from the years 2022-2037 based on how much plutonium is left in the state.

 

  • After 2037, DOE will pay a percentage of the statutorily required $100 million a year based on how much plutonium is left in the state.

 

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