The contractor of the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at Savannah River Site has quietly requested from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission a 10-year extension for construction activities.
Shaw Areva MOX Services’ current construction permit expires March 30, 2015. The contractor made the request to extend the permit to 2025 in a May 12 letter that surfaced this week.
No decision has been reached on the extension request, NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said Wednesday. A public notice on the request and details of an environmental assessment that has been prepared on the proposed extension will be issued “soon” in the Federal Register, he said.
Ledford said the MOX contractor can continue with construction activities beyond March 30, 2015, if the NRC has not reached a final decision on the extension request by the expiration date.
The MOX construction permit was issued in March 2005, and construction began in August 2007. About $4 billion has been spent so far on construction of the facility, which is being built to convert 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel.
Cost overruns and schedule delays have led the Obama administration to slash funding for the project and propose shutting down construction to search for cheaper alternatives. Congressional support for the project, however, has backed funding for fiscal year 2015, although a budget has not been passed.
In 1999, the MOX plant was projected to cost $1.7 billion. The estimate rose to $4.9 billion, and in 2013, the cost was revised to $7.7 billion.
In its letter to the NRC, Shaw Areva MOX Services said completing the MOX facility – which was about 60 percent complete in May – “is highly dependent upon annual congressional funding,” which has been less than projected for several years.
Other reasons for the extension include a shortage of qualified vendors that led to delayed delivery of components; shortage of qualified construction workers; and the two-year difference between issuance of the construction permit and actual start of construction.
The fuel fabrication building is “substantially complete, including roof and exterior structure,” according to the letter. More than 200,000 pounds of HVAC duct work, 1,000 fire dampers, 70 tanks and 20 gloveboxes have been installed.
Remaining construction includes the emergency generator building, the Reagents Processing Building and completion of ventilation systems. The final completion date is unknown. The extension request does not authorize any additional work.
Tom Clements, director of watchdog group SRS Watch and a critic of the MOX project, said the extension request highlights ongoing problems with the construction project and plant design.
“A 10-year license extension could mean that the MOX project will just slowly drag on with no clear schedule and that the endless costs overruns will continue,” he said.
Clements said the NRC needs to hold a public meeting to inform taxpayers about problems associated with the project.
The NRC is not required to hold a public meeting for the extension of a construction permit, although “interested parties” can petition for a hearing, Ledford said.