By Associated Press - Thursday, October 15, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A judge is allowing two law firms to collect $75 million from the state of South Carolina for helping negotiate a settlement with the federal government over nuclear material left at a former nuclear weapons plant.

But a lawyer who sued over the payment - calling it astronomical and saying state Attorney General Alan Wilson shouldn’t have had sole authority - said an appeal is planned.

“They can go ahead and spend the money. But if we win, they have to give it back. They will proceed at their risk,” Columbia attorney Jim Griffin told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

In her 15-page order, Circuit Judge Alison Renee Lee said state law is unambiguous in allowing the attorney general to pay any costs for legal work from settlement money, the newspaper reported.

Wilson said he needed the experience of the outside firms because the issues were so complex and they were working long before realizing the amount of the settlement.

South Carolina and the federal government agreed to the $600 million settlement in August after missing years of deadlines to remove plutonium from the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

The material from old nuclear weapons were supposed to be converted into fuel for nuclear reactors as part of the stand down from the Cold War, but the project faced a number of problems and never really started.

The South Carolina Public Interest Foundation’s suit said the $75 million payment to law firms Davidson, Wren & DeMasters and Willoughby & Hoefer was too much. It is 12.5% of the $600 million overall settlement.

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