Just one week after a scathing review from one federal agency, new documents from another agency shine contradictory light on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission released its annual review of MOX in a letter to CB&I Areva MOX Services President and Chief Operating Officer David Del Vecchio. The findings are positive and stand in contrast to the strong language in the review conducted by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration over the same period.
Both annual reviews covered project performance in 2016. Like much of the MOX project, including completion percentages, financial figures and forecast operational dates, separate entities seem to disagree about what’s happening at the construction site.
In the NNSA review released last week, MOX contractor CB&I was given a zero percent performance rating in the category called “Integrated Project Execution.” The NNSA called the MOX performance “unsatisfactory.”
The NRC found no issues worth annotating in its review, however. That evaluation found the MOX “construction oversight” had “no specific performance issues.” The NRC evaluation didn’t identify any problem areas for the MOX contractor. The review points out violations and issues found in previous inspections, but also stated that those deficiencies were being addressed by the contractor’s corrective action program.
David Blee, of the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, said the differences between the two evaluations show the differences between a political and an independent agency.
“The NRC’s positive findings on the MOX program’s performance in 2016 are a direct repudiation of former Secretary (Ernest) Moniz’s politically motivated campaign to kill the MOX program and indeed the DOE’s own biased 2016 review,” Blee contended.
He said the NRC evaluation was fact-based and demonstrates a view of the project outside of what he called Obama administration efforts to cripple MOX.
“The NRC is an objective, independent technical agency where facts matter, whereas the DOE’s campaign has been politically motivated spin without substance,” he said. “The NRC report highlights the extent to which politics has been played with the MOX project by the DOE.”
With varying reports of progress and a forecast completion date decades beyond deadline, MOX survivability has been called into question. Blee said he believes that MOX will fare better under the Trump administration.
“There is every indication that the project will not only survive but prosper given the new administration,” Blee said. “The Congress has been a consistent firewall of support for the MOX project as they understand the nonproliferation, jobs and energy security importance of the MOX.”
In its letter to Del Vecchio, the NRC said, “The NRC determined that the (MOX plant) was being constructed in a manner that preserved public health and safety and was consistent with the Commission’s rules and regulations.”
“We are confident that (Energy) Secretary (Rick) Perry will fully appreciate MOX’s important attributes and look to provide the leadership and funding necessary to get the 70-percent complete MOX project into the end zone,” Blee said.
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