AIKEN — Nonproliferation advocate and former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar visited Savannah River Site on Thursday to tour the yet-to-be-completed mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility, throwing his support behind the continued funding of the project in advance of the 2017 budgetary process.
At Aiken Municipal Airport, Lugar, who, along with former Sen. Sam Nunn, of Georgia, pushes for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet Union territories, said he believes MOX will be completed.
It has to be, he added.
In 2000, the U.S. and Russia entered into an agreement to dispose of 68 metric tons, which, according to a document prepared by the MOX project, is enough to create about 17,000 nuclear weapons.
But for years the facility has been labeled as a boondoggle by those who object to the rising cost of construction and delays at the South Carolina site.
According to The Augusta Chronicle archives, the fabrication plant was projected to cost $1.7 billion to complete. Contractors now say roughly $5 billion has been spent to date with about $3 billion needed to finish the build.
MOX is expected to receive about $340 million through the end of the year.
After a visit last month, U.S. Rep. Rick Allen said he was told that mothballing the project could cost up to $500 million. However, Lugar said the consequences of halting construction amount to more than just money lost.
“It’s an important agreement because both Russia and the United States agreed to do this, and so the importance of completion of the MOX facility here is really of the essence,” Lugar said. “It’s important in terms of security to the citizens of the United States and the world, and also important to keep the Russians in line so they are in on agreement.
“Failure to complete this would perhaps give them a pass to go into other objectives, which would be dangerous for them, for us, for the world, in my judgment.”
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz last year said it would require $1 billion annually to complete MOX, which, according to contractors, is about 70 percent finished. Others say life-cycle costs could reach $30 billion.
“On a basis of my visit today and some research that I’ve done before, I think those figures are way out of line,” Lugar said. “They really have no relationship to the actual cost that will be involved. But there really will be costs if we don’t get the job done.”
Last week, Gov. Nikki Haley asked South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to sue the U.S. Department of Energy for failing to meet statutory obligations regarding MOX, but no timetable for action has been put forth to date.
Lugar said he understands the state’s position and expects South Carolina to see some sort of action from the federal government.
“I believe that funds are going be forthcoming,” he said. “What I believe would be most unfortunate, however, is if members of Congress said, ‘Well, this is an election year. I’m going to let things go and debate this again next year.’”