Oversight organizations ask Congress to de-fund MOX

Aerial photo of the MOX facility under construction at the Savannah River Site in June, 2016.

In 2016, the National Nuclear Security Administration under Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was a singular voice trying to close down Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication facility against a number of outspoken legislators. Now, the voice of the opposition seems to be growing.

 

In what the group called an outcry against fraud, waste and abuse, a consortium of private organizations delivered a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday, calling for renewed efforts to mothball the MOX project.

The letter was drafted by the Project on Government Oversight, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the National Taxpayers Union and Savannah River Site Watch. According to Lydia Dennett, an investigator with POGO, the letter was sent to members of the committees that handle energy and water appropriations and the armed services committees in both the U.S. Senate and House.

“President Trump has come in and said he wants to cut excess spending,” Dennett said. “This project is a full of fraud, waste, and abuse and we think this is a great place to do that.”

In the letter, the group said, “Today, MOX is vastly over budget and behind schedule. Finishing construction of the facility alone has gone from $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion — over 10 times the original estimate. That cost doesn’t include operating the plant over the next 20 years. The project is also 41 years behind schedule, lacks even a single potential customer, and could be putting dangerous nuclear material at risk.”

Those figures are based on U.S. Department of Energy numbers according to commissioned studies in the last several years.

The contract company building the MOX facility has placed final construction figures closer to $10 billion and says the facility is about 70 percent complete, compared to NNSA’s 30 percent estimates.

“NNSA called out blatant lies told by the contractor to the government, Congress, and the American people, and noted several incidents of poor management that led to cost growth and significant delays in completing the project. The evaluation clearly shows that the MOX project is in disarray,” the letter said.

“MOX is a sort of classic example of government spending gone awry without much oversight,” said Dennett. “It seems to have gotten worse every single year. We are advocating that Congress cancel or put the project in cold storage until there is a handle on it.”

The future of the MOX project, the approximately 2,000 associated jobs and the billions of future taxpayer dollars remain in limbo for the time being. The Trump Administration has not addressed the facility and the president’s nominee for Energy Secretary, , Rick Perry, has yet to be confirmed.

“The contract evaluation makes clear how the Department of Energy, Congress, and taxpayers have been misled about the progress of this program,” the letter states. “MOX has failed the viability test, and NNSA’s poor evaluation of the contractor running the MOX project should be the final straw. As it is now abundantly clear that there is no path forward to save the MOX project, we urge you to discontinue funding for it.”

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706)823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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