The U.S. Energy Department released full details Monday of its fiscal 2014 budget, raising more doubts about the future of the half-finished MOX project under construction at Savannah River Site.
In a brief summary shared last week, the administration slashed $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s 2014 construction budget, citing rising costs that may have rendered the plant “unaffordable.”
In a detailed budget posted Monday, the administration firmed up plans to “assess alternatives” and declined to budget any MOX funds in “out year” projections from 2015 to 2018.
Allocations for those years were listed as “TBD,” or “to be decided” after other options are explored and a “decision” is made.
The plant, designed to dispose of surplus plutonium by blending it into commercial nuclear fuel, has become increasingly expensive, with construction costs recently revised from from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion.
The budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the MOX program, also said the plant’s life cycle operating costs had risen.
The plant’s mission is to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium from dismantled warheads. The projected operating cost over the 13-year mission was listed as $7.1 billion last year, the budget said, but has increased to $8.2 billion, with the task now taking 15 years to complete.
Also rising are the projected operating costs of the waste solidification building that would manage the waste stream generated by the MOX facility.
Previous estimates, the budget said, called for just over $1 billion in operating costs over 15 years. The newest figure estimates that cost at $1.9 billion, over 20 years.
“Cost growth and fiscal pressure may make these projects unaffordable, so the Administration is conducting an assessment of alternative plutonium disposition strategies and identifying options for FY 2014 and the outyears,” the budget said.
“As a result, NNSA will slow down the MOX project and other activities associated with the current plutonium disposition strategy, including the Waste Solidification Building, during the assessment period.”