Budget proposal for MOX facility remains level while study is underway



President Obama’s budget proposal Monday would keep construction at Savannah River Site’s embattled mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant going at a slower pace until another study is complete on plutonium disposition.

The fiscal 2016 budget requests $345 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration plant at SRS, the same funding level for the MOX facility in 2015. The plant is intended to convert weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel.

Last year, the Department of Energy recommended shuttering the facility, which has cost overruns in the billions. The proposal for “cold standby” was axed by Congress, which successfully fought for $345 million to continue construction and ordered an analysis of other plutonium disposition options.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Monday that the budget request meets Congress’ demand that construction continue. The funding level, however, is far below the money needed to build the facility at an optimal rate.

“We are building slowly because $345 million is really not enough to pick up the pace and complete the facility in a reasonable amount of time,” Moniz said.

The federal government has contracted with Aerospace Corp., a federally-funded research and development center in California, to complete an analysis of plutonium disposition methods. The study will be completed before the fiscal year ends in September, the Energy Department said.

“We will stay with $345 million until completing the analysis, then work with Congress to finalize (fiscal year 2016),” Moniz said.

He said he expects the study’s results to be similar to those from an internal analysis completed by the department last year.

The $30 billion budget request for the department – 9 percent more than fiscal year 2015 – proposes a series of programs for energy infrastructure, research, national defense and Cold War nuclear materials clean-up.

At SRS, the request supports ongoing work to empty and seal highly radioactive liquid waste storage tanks, construction of the Salt Waste Processing Facility and operation of the H-Canyon chemical separations plant.

According to the budget request, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the MOX project, assuming an annual funding level of $500 million, will cost between $10 billion and $13 billion and be completed no earlier than 2027.

Construction of the MOX facility began in 2007, and more than $4 billion has been spent so far.

Report highlights ongoing concerns with aging SRS infrastructure
MOX facility at Savannah River Site placed on standby while alternatives assessed
Savannah River Site clean up pushed to 2065, costing extra $25 billion
Energy Secretary Moniz discusses MOX funding during SRS visit
SRS officials detail future nuclear waste storage plans

In his budget, President Obama is proposing a new approach to deal with the nation’s nuclear waste storage at power plants by starting what would be a decade-long, roughly $5.7 billion effort.

The plan would establish an interim storage site for the waste now distributed at 72 commercial nuclear power plants across the country.

Republicans are already gearing up to revive Yucca Mountain, a long-term storage site in former Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada that was tabled by the administration. In 2010, the Energy Department withdrew its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, prompting lawsuits and congressional inquiries that it was out of compliance with the law.

– Associated Press

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