The project, announced by the National Nuclear Security Administration, will enable the site to retain 90 jobs at H Canyon that otherwise would be in jeopardy because of the government’s decision to scale down operations at the facility and maintain it in “safe standby mode.”
“This is good news,” said Jim Giusti, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesman. “This funding allows us to stabilize the workforce and retain 90 jobs that were in question.”
The three-year project would provide up to 3.7 metric tons of feedstock for the mixed oxide fuel facility, which will blend plutonium from dismantled warheads with uranium to make fuel rods suitable for use in commercial power reactors.
Though the MOX plant’s main mission is to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium from “pits” taken from bombs, the initial feedstock to be made at H Canyon will come from nonpit plutonium already at the site.
The H Canyon mission calls for producing 200 kilograms of plutonium oxide in the first year of the project, with a peak production rate of
1 metric ton per year thereafter. The $20.5 million-per-year funding would be maintained for three years.
The use of H Canyon for initial MOX plant feedstock will not eliminate the need for a separate “pit disassembly and conversion” plant that will provide the bulk of the plutonium.
The government initially planned to build a freestanding facility for that operation and later considered the use of existing buildings at
The delay in a final decision led congressional critics to question whether the MOX plant might be completed on schedule but have to sit idle because there would not be raw materials needed for full operation.
“This will help cover them until a disassembly and conversion process is established, or other means are established to feed the MOX plant to keep it operational,” Giusti said.