A federal district judge in South Carolina refused late Friday to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the COVID-19 vaccination mandate by the prime contractor at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site.

U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs ruled the 97 vaccine holdouts suing Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) “have not made a clear showing that they will likely succeed on the merits or that they will suffer irreparable harm” as a result of the federal contractor’s policy.

In the 39-page decision, the federal judge said there is no explicit public policy opposing vaccination mandates in South Carolina, but added there is a clear state policy favoring “at-will” employment. At-will workers are “generally terminable by either party at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all.”

The vaccination policy spurred by executive orders issued by President Biden in September calls upon all employees save for those issued medical or religious exemptions at the Fluor [FLR]-led operations and maintenance contract to be vaccinated. In the decision, the judge said no one is being “forcibly vaccinated.”

“The Mandate provides that Plaintiffs can take the vaccine of their choosing, apply for a religious or medical exemption, remain unvaccinated and take unpaid leave, remain unvaccinated and resign, or remain unvaccinated and be ‘subject to termination,’” the judge said in the written decision. “The fact remains that Plaintiffs have a choice, even if it is a choice they consider ‘unacceptable and untenable,’ and the choice provides more options than loss of employment or vaccination.”

The plaintiffs initially filed suit in state court on Oct. 14, when SRNS had called for those refusing inoculation to turn in their site badges in anticipation of being fired Nov. 30. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions had the case removed to U.S. District Court and Childs held a hearing on the matter Nov. 30.

At the Savannah River Site, DoE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration harvests tritium for use in nuclear weapons. The agency is also planning to build a factory there to produce plutonium pits, the sparkplugs of nuclear weapons, beginning in the early- to mid-2030s.