The mixed oxide fuel plant being built at Savannah River Site “may be unaffordable,” the Obama administration said Wednesday in fiscal 2014 budget requests that would trim $132.7 million from the project and slow its construction.
The MOX plant, designed to dispose of plutonium from surplus nuclear bombs by blending it into commercial reactor fuel, is three years behind schedule and its projected cost recently grew from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion.
The administration said it fully supports the National Nuclear Security Administration’s mission to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium but must explore options other than MOX.
“This current plutonium disposition approach may be unaffordable … due to cost growth and fiscal pressure,” the budget summary said, adding that officials will “assess the feasibility of alternative plutonium disposition strategies.”
That assessment, along with reduced funding, will result “in a slowdown of MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility Construction in 2014,” the proposal said.
MOX construction received $452.7 million in fiscal 2012, when the last budget was adopted, and $478.7 million under a 2013 continuing resolution. The fiscal 2014 proposal of $320 million would be a cut of $132.7 million – or 29.3 percent.
Also slashed in the budget plan was Savannah River Site’s Environmental Management budget, which pays for the site’s major cleanup and waste-processing activities and the Savannah River National Laboratory.
SRS received $1,187,782 in 2012 and a similar sum under the 2013 resolution. The 2014 proposal is $99.5 million less, representing an 8.4 percent cut.
In its narrative, however, officials said the requested $1,088,200 will still support the liquid waste program, which includes operating the Defense Waste Processing Facility and the Saltstone Facility and continued closure activities for liquid waste Tanks 5 and 6.
The site and its contractors employ about 11,000 workers, including about 2,300 at the MOX construction site.