Savannah River Site MOX project cut by $17.3 million

The House this week cut $17.3 million from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s MOX project at Savannah River Site and will use the money for other nonproliferation programs.

The amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, was approved 328 to 89, according to House records.

In a letter to colleagues seeking support for the amendment, Fortenberry said the program to convert surplus weapons-grade plutonium to commercial nuclear fuel has garnered little interest among civilian nuclear power producers.

The $4.8 billion MOX, or “mixed oxide fuel” plant, is scheduled to open in 2016, but has drawn criticism from congressional budget writers and concern from the Gov­ern­ment Accountability Office over escalating operating cost estimates.

“It is abundantly clear that the mixed oxide fuel program is not the most productive use of our constituents’ tax dollars,” Fortenberry said.

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, a MOX supporter, noted in a letter asking colleagues to defeat the amendment that the project is more than halfway complete and currently employs 2,600 workers.

“Construction cost increases at the facility are significantly less than average commercial nuclear construction cost increases nationwide,” he said.

The government, he added, remains hopeful that negotiations to use MOX fuel in Tennessee Valley Authority reactors will yield an agreement.

The $17.3 million cut from the project is unlikely to have a major impact, but serves as a symbolic gesture of Congress’ increasing concern over MOX, said Tom Clements, the nonproliferation policy director for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

“The effect is mostly psychological,” he said.

The 2013 Energy and Water Develop­ment and Appropriations bill provides annual funding for the Energy Department and other entities and totals $32.1 billion – $965 million below the president’s budget request.

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