U.S. Rep. Rick Allen recognizes that the ongoing construction of the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at Savannah River Site is pricey, but not as costly as it would be to mothball the project.
The MOX facility currently has funding – about $340 million – to continue through year’s end, but during a tour of the construction site Tuesday along with three other U.S. House members, Allen said he was told by contractors that halting the project could cost as much as $500 million.
“They also indicated to me that if it were shut down that it very likely couldn’t reopen,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who joined Allen and Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Donald Norcross, D-N.J., on the tour.
The National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy last week denied a request from The Augusta Chronicle to join the tour.
The purpose of the tour was simple, Allen said.
“We want to make sure the taxpayers are getting their bang for the buck,” he said.
The MOX project, which broke ground in 2007, has been plagued with delays and cost overruns, and it has been criticized by some who say it exemplifies government mismanagement and wasteful spending.
In April, The Augusta Chronicle reported the total cost to build and operate the facility, which is about 68 percent complete, to be about
$47.5 billion, which Wilson said is overstated.
During the tour, the lawmakers were able to question contractors and were educated on another option for plutonium disposition, downblending,
which could be performed at the site’s K-area.
“I did express my desire that we need to get into the nuclear fuel reprocessing business in this country,” Allen said. “If we’re going to have new nuclear plants, then we’ve got to have something to do with that fuel, and I think reprocessing like the French do is the way to go.”
Wilson remarked that as the group climbed the steps at the MOX facility, they could look out across the Savannah River and see steam plumes rising from Plant Vogtle’s cooling towers. The Waynesboro, Ga., plant is building two more reactors and is storing fuel that could be processed at the MOX facility, Allen said.
Wilson, who was pleased to have a bipartisan delegation tour the site, said he visits the MOX facility annually and was surprised to see that it has grown to be more than a “rebar jungle.”
Wilson said he has not yet heard from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz regarding South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s threat to collect $1 million daily from the Department of Energy for failing to meet an agreed-upon deadline.
He expects to speak with Haley and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, his son, about the issue.