Three Republican members of Congress from South Carolina on Thursday disputed the most recent $47.5 billion cost estimate to complete building and operating the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at Savannah River Site.
Rep. Joe Wilson and Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott said in a statement that the independent assessment prepared for Congress by Aerospace Corp. has questionable cost figures and that the Obama administration should commit to completing the MOX facility.
“We have grave concerns with the Aerospace Corporation’s recent assessment of the cost to construct and operate the MOX facility,” the statement said. “Having already spent $4.4 billion on the project to achieve roughly 65 percent completion, we find it difficult to understand how completing and operating the project will cost another $47.5 billion.”
The report was released to Congress on Wednesday but won’t be available to the public for months.
Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research and development center based in California, was ordered by Congress to assess the cost and schedule for the MOX facility and a second plutonium disposition method called downblending.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous branch of the Department of Energy, confirmed that the Aerospace report estimated $47.5 billion more to complete the MOX program and $17.2 billion for downblending.
Graham and Wilson are long-time supporters of the MOX facility, which employs 1,600 workers. They want the administration to continue construction on the plant, which is intended to convert weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel and fulfill a nonproliferation agreement with Russia.
“MOX will serve as our country’s means by which to honor a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with the Russian Federation,” they said. “At a time when tensions are high between our two nations, we cannot afford to walk away from our side of the agreement.”
At the end of March, Wilson and Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz questioning the selection of Aerospace Corp. to conduct the study. The research center has expertise in national security space programs, not nuclear disposition and construction, they said.
Thursday’s statement called for Aerospace to explain how it determined the cost estimates.
“It is imperative the contractor, DOE and the Aerospace Corp. sit down and come to agreement on a final cost for the project,” the statement said. “This is essential to ensuring the project is finished and that taxpayer money is not squandered in the process.”