Despite plans to close SRS’ mixed oxide plant, a top National Nuclear Security Administration official has said current regulations don’t allow for the plutonium disposal originally destined for the site.
The federal government has also yet to have formal conversations with Russia regarding an alternative to MOX, designed to facilitate an agreement between the U.S. and Russia to dispose of 68 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The material covered under the agreement is enough to create about 17,000 nuclear weapons, according to the MOX project.
The U.S. is currently on the hook to dispose of more than 34 metric tons, seven of which are at Savannah River Plant with the rest in storage at Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, NNSA undersecretary, said there are an additional six tons at SRS that aren’t covered under that agreement.
Currently, the Department of Energy and the NNSA have statutory authority to dispose of all 13 tons in storage at SRS at a facility in New Mexico, but after President Obama proposed mothballing MOX, which would convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial reactors, in favor of a dilute and dispose approach, Klotz said his agency would have to seek additional permission to dispose of the 34 metric tons.
“We expect that we would have to do some work on statutory authorities associated with that,” he said.
Upon hearing this, U.S. Sen. Graham, R-S.C., rattled off a line of questioning and interrupted Klotz before he could complete his responses.
“So let’s see if I got this,” Graham said. “We’re going to change the entire program, then we’re going to go to the Russians to see if they’re O.K. with it? Is that the plan?”
To which Klotz replied: “That is the plan.”
When asked what would happen to the MOX, which contractors say is about 70 percent complete, Klotz paused and again attempted to answer but was once again cut off by Graham.
Earlier this month, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that he doesn’t believe a stop work order will be issued for MOX in 2016, but language in Obama’s budget proposal means that one could be issued in the following fiscal year if supported by Congress.