Sen. Lindsey Graham says reducing MOX costs could save the project

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hopes to salvage the beleaguered mixed oxide fuel project by working with contractors and the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce the spiraling costs that led to its planned suspension.

“I will work with the administration to get the costs down, but I will not entertain for one minute a disposition plan other than MOX,” Graham said during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing this week.

The half-completed MOX facility at Savannah River Site is designed to dispose of surplus plutonium by blending it into commercial nuclear fuel. The plant has become increasingly expensive, with construction costs recently revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion.

DOE proposed cutting $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s
2014 construction budget, citing rising costs that might have rendered the plant unaffordable. In addition to slowing construction, the department plans to assess alternatives to MOX.

Graham said he remains confident in MOX and its technology and believes the costs can be reduced through closer scrutiny.

“We have studied this thing to death,” he said. “It’s time to get it built.”

Anne Harrington, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, told Graham that the “assessment pause” in the SRS project was not a plan to abandon the effort.

“MOX remains clearly on the table,” she said. “It’s not that we are disregarding MOX.”

Graham disagreed.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” he said. “You’re a very smart lady, but it’s not on the table.”

He cited a federal facilities agreement in which DOE would pay South Carolina about $100 million a year in fines if the plutonium disposition doesn’t move forward on schedule.

Graham, who negotiated a two-year extension to the agreement, said South Carolina residents want the plutonium processed and removed from the state, rather than having the federal government pay penalties.

He said he would not have worked to amend the agreement had he known the project would be suspended the next year.

About $4 billion has been spent on the MOX program, which employs about 2,300 workers.

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Topics Page: Savannah River Site

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