The National Nuclear Security Administration is more than six months late on its annual status report to Congress on the mixed oxide fuel project at Savannah River Site.
The document, mandated under the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act, was due Feb. 15 and was to include updated details on the $4.8 billion project’s construction progress and completion schedule, among other things.
Critics of the project say the delay is another sign the government’s program to dispose of surplus plutonium from dismantled nuclear bombs could be facing more problems.
“Failure to deliver this required report reveals that the Department of Energy does not know if the MOX plant construction will be completed and if the facility will ever operate,” said Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator with Friends of the Earth.
The mixed oxide, or MOX plant, is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium by blending the material with uranium to make commercial reactor fuel. Efforts to find utilities willing to use the fuel have progressed slowly.
In June, the House Appropriations Committee expressed new concerns about the project’s escalating costs and the quest to find clients for the fuel.
“The costs of this program continue to escalate, with current estimates of as much as $9.7 billion, just to construct the needed facilities,” committee members wrote in the fiscal 2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.
Although the Tennessee Valley Authority is exploring its use in as many as five of its reactors, the recent crisis with Japan’s nuclear program will make such an alliance less likely, and much more difficult, the committee wrote.
Josh McConaha, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said officials are diligently working on the report. “The MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility report is currently in progress and will be submitted to Congress as soon as it is completed,” he said.
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