Legislation to cut $100 billion from a “bloated” U.S. nuclear weapons budget over the next decade includes a provision to halt further funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s $4.8 billion mixed oxide fuel plant under construction at Savannah River Site.
The Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act of 2012, introduced Wednesday by U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and about 30 co-sponsors, also would cut the current nuclear submarine fleet, reduce the nation’s ICBM missile inventory, delay construction of new nuclear-capable bombers and end current nuclear strike bomber missions.
Among nuclear weapons related construction projects that would be halted is the MOX facility, scheduled to open in 2016.
The plant’s mission is to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium — or the equivalent needed for about 17,000 warheads — by blending small amounts of the material with uranium to make nuclear fuel suitable for commercial power reactors.
Markey’s bill stipulates that “none of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2013 or any fiscal year thereafter for the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy may be obligated or expended for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project.”
Critics of the MOX project acknowledge the bill has little chance of approval, but believe it could have positive impacts on future decisions.
“It might be hard for the bill to pass but part of the aim is to create dialogue about wasteful nuclear-related spending,” said Tom Clements, nonproliferation policy director for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. “And I think that will definitely happen.”
The MOX plant, in its sixth year of construction, employs about 2,200 workers and is 60 percent complete.