The latest report estimating costs for the troubled mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at Savannah River Site discloses yet another dollar figure for the project and disputes U.S. Energy Department assessments that cheaper alternatives exist for plutonium disposition.
The board of governors of CB&I Areva MOX Services, the consortium building the project, commissioned the new report after the Department of Energy released in April a congressionally mandated study that put a price tag on MOX $47.5 billion to $110.4 billion depending on annual funding appropriations.
Another method for disposing of plutonium, called downblending, was estimated at $17.2 billion.
The contractor faulted Aerospace Corp., a federally-funded research and development firm that prepared the Energy Department report, for inflated cost estimates and incorrect analysis of construction risks. The contractor’s report was prepared by High Bridge Associates, a consulting firm for commercial nuclear plants, Department of Energy and other nuclear industries.
“MOX risk elements and resulting impact costs appear to be overstated and inconsistent while downblend elements are clearly understated,” according to the report’s summary.
The MOX cost is $20.6 billion, according to High Bridge’s report that estimated a $20 billion price tag for downblending, a process that involves diluting plutonium, packaging it in containers and shipping it to a repository.
More than $4 billion has been spent so far on MOX, which is about 65 percent complete. Construction began in 2007 on the facility intended to convert weapons-grade plutonium to commercial nuclear fuel and fulfill a nonproliferation agreement with Russia.
Both the Energy Department and CB&I Areva MOX Services are expected to release in coming weeks an additional report with more analysis on MOX and plutonium disposition methods.
Rick McLeod, executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, said the proliferation of reports has confused the public and cast doubts on the accuracy of cost estimates.
“There’s got to be the truth between the numbers somewhere,” he said. “It’s hard for the community to know where the truths lie.”