A nearly two year-old federal lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) planned plutonium-pit plant in South Carolina should enter its final stages this summer, recent court filings show.

In a scheduling order filed Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina in Aiken ordered the environmentalists to file a motion for summary judgment no later than Aug. 4 and for the federal defendants, the secretary of energy and the administrator of the NNSA, to file their own motion for summary judgment no later than Sept. 18.

In an attempt to force a lengthy environmental review of the agency’s plan to produce nuclear-weapon cores in South Carolina and New Mexico, the environmentalists sued the DoE and its semi-autonomous nuclear-weapons agency in 2021. 

NNSA wants to produce at least 80 pits annually by some time in the 2030s using both the proposed Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility and the expanded PF-4 Plutonium Facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The suit in the Aiken court centers on the Savannah River facility, which the NNSA has said could begin making pits in 2036. 

The Los Alamos plant could begin making pits by 2030, the director of the lab said last week.

The government tried to get the lawsuit thrown out on procedural and jurisdictional grounds, claiming that DoE had in fact done its environmental due diligence about the two-state pit plan, and that Congress had legally ordered the agency to make pits. 

Judge Mary Lewis did not buy the argument.

In a Feb. 7 order, Lewis said the court was “unable to say with any sense of confidence which party is correct” about the completeness of the environmental record and that the court was “of the firm opinion that its consideration of whether a new or supplemental PEIS [programmatic environmental impact statement is required, and whether this case should be dismissed, should come after discovery.”

Discovery is essentially the gathering and presentation of evidence.