Congress is keeping alive the construction funding for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site despite calls from the White House to stop the decade-old project.
The U.S. Senate this week passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which has $340 million for MOX for Fiscal Year 2018. The House passed the bill in July. Now with the Senate’s approval, the bill will head to conference where Congress will iron out any differences before a final version is sent to President Trump signature.
“They only authorize certain spending levels. They are not the appropriators,” SRS Watch Director Tom Clements said. “This is not the final decision on the funding. It appears to me that the appropriators could end up pulling the plug on the project.”
The Trump administration and former President Obama both asked for the nuclear fuel project to be de-funded. The White House’s press office this month said the administration “strongly objects” to continued construction of the “unaffordable and risky” project at SRS. The Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers estimate the project has $12 billion in remaining costs.
The Trump administration said an alternative approach known as dilute and dispose is “significantly less risky and expensive, and it can be implemented decades sooner than the MOX approach.”
Dilute and dispose is a process that turns plutonium into a powder and mixes it with inert material. It would then be buried at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico.The bill has $9 million to fund the dilute and dispose Surplus Plutonium Disposition Project.
The MOX project was born from a 2000 non-proliferation agreement between the U.S. and Russia, which called for the removal of 34 metric tons of plutonium from each nation’s arsenal. The project in Aiken County would convert the plutonium from retired nuclear weapons into a blend with uranium so it can be used in commercial nuclear reactors.
Originally estimated at $4 billion, the MOX facility construction began in 2007. It is only 70 percent complete, according to estimates.