(The Center Square) – In a settlement ending six years of litigation over 9.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the U.S. Department of Energy will pay South Carolina $600 million and remove the nuclear waste by 2037.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the settlement Monday. Wilson will work with Gov. Henry McMaster and the General Assembly on how to best allocate the $600 million in settlement funds.
“Today’s announcement is a promise to the people of South Carolina that plutonium will be removed safely from this state, while saving the American taxpayers over $1 billion,” Brouillette said in a statement. “The Trump Administration is committed to tackling our nation’s toughest challenges where previous Administrations have failed, including the removal and disposal of Cold War era plutonium from the State of South Carolina.”
As part of its national security mission after the Cold War, the Department of Energy sought to find a safe method to dispose of large amounts of weapons-grade nuclear material.
In 2002, the Department of Energy began shipping plutonium to the Savannah River Site in Aiken to await processing at a nuclear fuel manufacturing facility that was under construction. In 2018, then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry terminated construction of the fuel facility, as construction was 32 years behind schedule and $13 billion over budget. The 9.5 metric tons of plutonium remain.
The Department of Energy was required by law to remove the material by Jan. 1, 2022, or pay up to $100 million a year until all the plutonium was removed. Using a time-intensive “dilute and dispose” process, the department projects that the 9.5 tons would be removed by 2049, requiring it to pay more than $2 billion in taxpayer money in penalties.
The settlement allows the department to continue the safe and effective disposal process, while saving taxpayers more than $1 billion.
“The more than half a billion dollars in settlement money could not come at a better time as our state government and economy work to overcome the revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wilson said in a statement.
The settlement is the largest single settlement in South Carolina history, Wilson said.
“It is important to me that the people of South Carolina know of our long-term commitment to preventing South Carolina from becoming a dumping ground for nuclear waste,” Wilson said.
The Department of Energy will have 16 and a half years to remove the remaining plutonium from the state. If the deadline is not met, the department will be subject to additional litigation and be required to pay penalties.