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Government shutdown stalls settlement negotiations between SC, DOE

January 26, 2019

The longest government shutdown on record prevented the state of South Carolina and the U.S. Department of Energy from further negotiating a potential lawsuit settlement related to Savannah River Site plutonium.

In a joint status update filed Jan. 25, the state and the federal government said preliminary discussions were held and a meeting was “tentatively scheduled.” But, the filing reads, a lack of federal funding prevented the meeting and “any further negotiations” from happening.

South Carolina, led by Attorney General Alan Wilson, in January 2018 sued the federal government after the DOE failed to remove weapons-grade plutonium from the state in a timely manner.

Federal law required – beginning Jan. 1, 2016 – the DOE to pay the Palmetto State $1 million for each day, up to 100 days per year, the department failed to process weapons-grade plutonium via the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility or more generally remove 1 metric ton of it from the state.

South Carolina in March 2018 demanded $200 million, which would satisfy two years – 2016, 2017 – of inaction-related fines. At the time, the DOE argued it could not disburse the money because it was not properly appropriated it.

At the end of October 2018, a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge was notified that South Carolina and the federal government had entered settlement negotiations. The lawsuit was put on hold.

One month later, both parties believed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit could be settled without a judge’s intervention, according to court documents.

Wilson at the time said his team was “exhausting” all options.

The next settlement update will be submitted to the federal claims court March 26, according to the Friday filing.

The partial government shutdown began late last month. An agreement to end this latest deadlock was seemingly reached Friday afternoon.

MOX, located at SRS, was fully terminated by the National Nuclear Security Administration late last year.

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