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Detailing the $600M deal to remove plutonium from SRS

Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 5:09 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Tons of plutonium will be leaving the Savannah River site under a deal between South Carolina and the federal government that will bring $600 million to the state.

But not everyone in the state government is on board with the plan, which extends a deadline as the U.S. Department of Energy works to remove plutonium from the state.

The legal settlement — the largest in state history — was announced Monday by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, ending six years of legal battles between the state of South Carolina and the federal government.

It gives the U.S. Department of Energy until 2037 to remove 9.5 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site, which covers 198,046 acres in Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties and has a workforce of more than 11,000.

In exchange, the state of South Carolina is getting more than half a billion dollars up front.

“This settlement ends years of contentious litigation with the United States government. Contractually enshrines obligations of the federal government in the long run to prevent South Carolina from becoming a nuclear dumping ground,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said.

The federal government relocated the plutonium to SRS in the early 2000s.

Federal law originally required the Department of Energy to remove the plutonium from South Carolina by 2022

Wilson expects to get the money by Oct. 1. About $75 million of the $600 million will be used to cover legal fees for private attorneys.

“I believe that is a lot of money going to outside counsel, but without that effort, South Carolina would be receiving zero dollars,” Wilson said.

The rest of the money will go into a general fund.

Gov. Henry McMaster sent a letter to Wilson detailing his appreciation for the attorney general’s efforts and his concerns related to the settlement agreement.

The governor says extending the removal deadline restricts the state’s legal rights and he cannot support the settlement.

Wilson disagrees, saying it benefits South Carolina in the long term.

According to the settlement, if the Department of Energy does not meet the 2037 deadlines, it would have to pay millions of dollars in fines and could face more lawsuits from the state.

The Department of Energy says at least 7 metric tons of the plutonium will be transported to New Mexico.

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