U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Tuesday it will take more than $1 billion a year to complete Savannah River Site’s mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility and fund other related processes required for that method of plutonium disposal.
“When it comes to the total funding, not just for the fabrication plant but for all the other activities, for the (plutonium) pit disassembly and everything else, you’re talking north of a billion dollars a year,” Moniz said. “We’ve got to see Congress being willing to appropriate over a billion dollars a year for decades to get it done.”
Moniz said about $5 billion has been spent so far on MOX, which has cost overruns in the billions and years of schedule delays. The MOX fuel facility received $345 million for fiscal year 2015 to continue construction after the Obama administration recommended $221 million to stop the project and study cheaper alternatives. Level funding was proposed for next fiscal year.
“We are woefully short of the kind of resources that will take to get this project done in a reasonable time. The more time we go, the more it costs,” Moniz said during a media briefing near Aiken following a visit to SRS.
Moniz said completing MOX represents the best policy decision to make use of the $5 billion capital investment and fulfill a nonproliferation agreement with Russia.
Alternative plutonium disposition methods must be studied to determine the cost, and Congress must appropriate adequate funds, Moniz said. The administration recommended halting construction, or “cold standby,” until studies were finished so money would not be spent on a project with an unknown future, he said.
“It’s great to have a preference but if it’s not going to get paid for and it’s not going to get done, we’ve got to rethink what we’re doing. That’s where we remain,” Moniz said.
The MOX facility is intended to convert 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel. Construction began in 2007 with a $4.8 billion budget.
The project is about 65 percent complete, according to construction contractor CB&I Areva MOX Services.
Numerous cost estimates for the project have been done. A report ordered by Congress and released last month by the Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research and development center in California, determined the cost would total $110.4 billion when funded at $375 million a year. The estimate drops to $47.5 billion when funded at $500 million annually. The report’s accuracy was questioned by the contractor, Republican politicians and nuclear proponents.
Total costs will continue to escalate if the program is not fully funded each year, Moniz said. Additionally, the plant’s technology becomes outdated the longer construction takes to complete, he said.
“It will be finished if the resources are substantially higher than they are now. Otherwise, it will never be finished,” Moniz said.