COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A federal judge has handed a partial victory to South Carolina in its lawsuit over an unfinished nuclear fuel project, ruling that federal authorities must find somewhere else to store 1 metric ton of plutonium.
In an opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs ruled that she can't make the government immediately remove the materials from South Carolina, as the state had asked. Instead, the judge ordered both sides to agree on a court-enforceable removal schedule.
Last week, Childs ruled the state can't challenge the constitutionality of the federal government's failure to keep its promises regarding the partially built facility, which was intended to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear-reactor fuel.
She's also previously ruled that the state can't force the feds to pay $100 million they promised if deadlines aren't met, saying instead the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is the proper forum for that dispute.
The unfinished mixed-oxide fuel facility at the Savannah River Site, a sprawling former nuclear weapons plant along the South Carolina-Georgia border, is billions over budget, a situation Energy Department officials blame on design and construction mistakes and escalating supply costs.
The would-be plant is key to a nonproliferation agreement with Russia in which both countries committed to turning 34 metric tons of plutonium, enough to arm 17,000 warheads, into fuel.
South Carolina, frustrated by delays and previous attempts under the Obama administration to shutter it completely, says the government owes it to the state to keep its word.
Since the United States lacks a designated long-term storage site for high-level radioactive waste, tons of unwanted plutonium have accumulated at the site, including at least 7 tons intended for the mixed-oxide fuel facility. Other nuclear waste is stabilized in glass canisters, which remain at the site.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/