Reducing MOX Costs Could Save Project

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SC Sen. Lindsey Graham hopes to save the beleaguered MOX project by working with contractors and the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce spiraling costs that prompted its planned suspension, reported the Augusta Chronicle. “I will work with the administration to get the costs down but I will not entertain for one minute a disposition plan other than MOX,” Graham said during a Senate Armed Services Hearing last week.

The half-completed mixed oxide fuel facility is designed to dispose of surplus plutonium by blending it into commercial nuclear fuel and has become increasingly expensive, with construction costs recently revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion.

The department proposed cutting $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s 2014 construction budget, citing rising costs that might have rendered the plant “unaffordable.” In addition to slowing construction, the department plans to “assess alternatives” to MOX.

Graham said he remains confident in MOX and its technology and believes the costs can be reduced through closer scrutiny. “We have studied this thing to death,” he said. “It’s time to get it built.”

Anne Harrington, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, told Graham the “assessment pause” in the Savannah River Site project was not a plan to abandon the effort. “MOX remains clearly on the table,” she said. “It’s not that we are disregarding MOX.”

Graham disagreed. “I don’t mean to be rude,” he said. “You’re a very smart lady, but it’s not on the table.”

He cited a federal facilities agreement in which the Department of Energy would pay South Carolina about $100 million a year in fines if the plutonium disposition project fails to move forward on schedule.

Graham, who negotiated a two-year extension to the agreement, said South Carolina residents want the plutonium processed and removed from the state, rather than having the federal government pay penalties.

“We don’t want the $100 million, we want the MOX facility,” he said, noting that he would not have worked to amend the agreement had he known the project would be suspended the next year. “When it comes to lowering costs, count me in,” he said. “When it comes to studying another way to do it, count me out.”

To date, about $4 billion has been spent on the MOX program, which employs about 2,300 workers. Read More.