The government’s mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River Site will become far more expensive than planned because of increased operating costs, the need to modify older facilities to process plutonium pits and other factors, according to comments filed Tuesday by 15 environmental groups responding to a reopened environmental impact statement.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Sierra Club chapters, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other groups contend the $4.8 billion plant’s construction costs prompted a change in the government’s original plan to build a separate facility to disassemble surplus nuclear bomb components to recover plutonium to use as MOX feedstock.
The plant’s mission is to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by blending small amounts with uranium to make fuel rods for commercial power reactors – a process that forever renders the plutonium unusable for weapons.
As an alternative to building a disassembly plant on-site, the National Nuclear Security Administration is evaluating the use of other facilities – including the H Canyon area within SRS – to process the pits. The groups contend the MOX program’s operating costs will exceed $10 million.
The draft environmental impact statement is expected to be issued in the summer, and hearings are expected to be held in the same cities in which earlier hearings on the document’s previous version were held, including Aiken.
The NNSA, which manages the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and is in charge of the MOX project, is working with Tennessee Valley Authority and a small utility in Richland, Wash., in their quest to find clients willing to use the fuel.
The MOX fuel plant, in its sixth year of construction, employs about 2,200 workers and is 60 percent complete. It is scheduled to open in 2016, with production of commercial fuel starting by 2018.