SC Gov McMaster makes recommendations for $525M plutonium deal

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants to invest most of a $525 million settlement from the federal government over plutonium storage at a former nuclear weapons plant into the counties surrounding the plant.

The governor on Friday released his recommendations for the money from the 2020 settlement. Federal authorities had promised a plant at the Savannah River Site near Aiken that would turn plutonium from unneeded nuclear weapons into nuclear reactor fuel but instead left about 21,000 pounds (9,500 kilograms) of the highly radioactive material in storage in South Carolina.

McMaster’s plan would direct $317.5 million to projects in Aiken County and $121 million and $13 million to nearby Barnwell and Allendale counties, respectively. Those communities surrounding the nuclear plant should be the beneficiaries of the funds, McMaster wrote in a letter to state lawmakers.

“These settlement funds present us with a once in a lifetime opportunity,” McMaster wrote. “By making big, bold, and transformative investments in the areas of education, infrastructure, workforce, and economic development, we can quite literally change the future of the region and the State.”

The money is currently in the hands of the state legislature, which will ultimately decide how to spend the cash.

The governor’s proposal would create several industrial parks, upgrade water and sewer systems and help develop and expand workforce training programs in the three counties, among other suggestions. McMaster has recommended several other infrastructure projects in Aiken, including a project to ease congestion on a busy road and a broadband expansion effort.

McMaster also wants $73.5 million to go into a reserve fund for future use.

South Carolina has long fought with the federal government over the plutonium, which was sent to the state for a facility intended to create nuclear fuel until federal officials shut the program down.

The feds promised in 2002 to get rid of all the plutonium by 2017 and the settlement was brokered after the promise was broken. The 2020 settlement also requires the U.S. to get all the plutonium out by the end of 2036 or face more penalties that could total more than $1 billion.

The Savannah River Site once had nearly 26,000 workers in the early 1990s as it shifted from making nuclear weapons to finding ways to clean and store the radioactive byproducts of weapons and nuclear plants. Now, about 11,000 people work at the site.

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