Construction of the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility will continue until at least through September without layoffs, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.
On the same day the NNSA released a long-awaited analysis of alternative methods for plutonium disposition, the federal agency that manages the multibillion-dollar MOX program at Savannah River Site said construction could still be placed on standby when fiscal year 2015 begins Oct. 1.
“The NNSA intends to work with the contractor on a plan for placing the project in cold standby during (fiscal) 2015, and we are continuing our ongoing discussions with Congress as they review and evaluate the (fiscal) 2015 budget request,” according to a statement.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s senior senator and a longtime supporter of the MOX program, applauded U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz for continuing construction through the end of the fiscal year, adding that he would fight for the future of the project.
“I thank the secretary for reversing course. This is the right decision for the program, the site and the employees working on the program at SRS,” Graham said. “In the short term, this decision will save thousands of jobs. However, there is still a long, arduous fight ahead.”
The MOX project is intended to convert 34 metric tons of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel and fulfill an international nonproliferation agreement with Russia. About $3.9 billion has been spent so far, and construction costs have reached an estimated $10 billion. In 1999, the MOX plant was projected to cost $1.7 billion.
The Department of Energy report released Tuesday analyzed the estimated life-cycle cost, schedule and ability to fulfill Russian agreements for five plutonium disposition methods, including the facility under construction at SRS.
The analysis determined that the contractor for the South Carolina MOX plant, Shaw Areva MOX Services, underestimated annual operating costs and issued change orders for several hundred million dollars. The life-cycle cost was an estimated $31 billion.
Options to the MOX plant include constructing a $50.5 billion fast-spectrum burner reactor and fuel fabrication facility at the K-Area Complex at SRS; immobilizing plutonium in glass canisters to dispose of in a geological repository for $28.7 billion; downblending plutonium for disposal in a salt-bed repository for $8.8 billion; and placing canisters of plutonium in 5,000-meter-deep shafts drilled into crystalline rock for an unknown cost.
The report also indicates that the four alternatives to the MOX plant at SRS would require further negotiations with Russia. Additionally, the SRS facility could complete disposition of 34 metric tons by 2043, the quickest of the options.
The NNSA said the report will be used “as a basis for determining the most efficient path forward for plutonium disposition.”