S.C. politicians meet with President Trump to discuss fate of MOX project

A collection of South Carolina lawmakers and politicians hit the White House on Thursday in an effort to save the seemingly doomed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project.

The historically pro-MOX group that was scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump that afternoon included U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott; U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson; S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster; and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, according to respective spokespeople and prior interviews and information.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan did not attend the summit, according to a spokesperson.

Graham, in a prepared statement, said he appreciated both the president’s time and attention on Thursday.

“In our meeting today, we told President Trump that South Carolina continues to violently disagree with the decision to terminate the MOX program without a viable pathway forward,” Graham continued.

Scott, in a prepared statement, described the MOX meeting with Trump as “very productive.”

“The president was certainly open to our comments and our concerns,” Scott said. “The fact of the matter is we’re looking for ways to keep the president engaged and not simply allow the Department of Energy to do what they have done in the past, which is to use a set of numbers that we simply do not agree with.”

While intimate details of the actual dialogue with Trump are scant, prior arguments and statements made by the aforementioned six – all Republican – further shed light on the situation.

On Monday, following a speech to the S.C. Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council, McMaster said the “best thing to do, the best direction to go is to finish the construction of the MOX facility.” It’s a point he’s made numerous times before.

“That’s why we’re going to speak to the president,” the governor said.

MOX, a currently incomplete Savannah River Site facility, is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. MOX was supposed to come online in 2016 at a price of $4.8 billion. Both the completion timeline and price tag have since mushroomed.

On May 10, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry – a Trump nominee – moved to terminate the MOX project. In a Sept. 14 letter to U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty – another Trump nominee – reaffirmed Perry’s plans to kill MOX.

Joe Wilson, in an interview with the Aiken Standard last week, said he discussed Gordon-Hagerty’s letter with Thornberry and mentioned his disappointment. Both men are members of the House Armed Services Committee.

On Oct. 10, following an intricate legal back-and-forth, the NNSA ended the MOX contract in its entirety, effective immediately. The NNSA, a semiautonomous DOE agency, oversees the MOX project and operates at SRS.

McMaster on Monday said the termination notice was “expected.”

On Saturday, before speaking at a breakfast forum in Columbia, Graham said he had a “singular focus” headed into Thursday’s sit-down: “to try to convince President Trump to abandon MOX makes no sense.”

“You thought Kavanaugh was a fight?” Graham later said, referencing the confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh. “You ain’t seen nothing yet over this.”

The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget request included $220 million for continued MOX work, an amount that paled in comparison to previous years and was described in DOE briefing documents as enough to move forward with “the orderly and safe closure” of the project.

The MOX project was later appropriated that $220 million.

The MOX termination notice specifically speaks to the MOX wind down process and resultant worksite preservation.

It is not clear if the NNSA sent a representative to the meeting Thursday.