S.C., Georgia senators voice MOX support

Thursday, May 16, 2013 8:54 AM
Last updated Friday, May 17, 2013 12:17 AM
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COLUMBIA — Republican senators from South Carolina and Geor­gia have called on the Obama administration to continue funding a program to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel, saying that slowing or ending the project would harm international and domestic relationships.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, of South Carolina, and Sens. Sax­by Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, of Georgia, wrote in a letter sent this week to President Obama that efforts to slow funding for the mixed oxide fuel program could hurt both states’ relationships with the federal government.

“Your decision violates the commitments that were made to South Carolina and jeopardizes a 60-year partnership between the Savannah River Site and the state,” the senators wrote. “We will not allow this ill-conceived plan to proceed.”

The MOX plant under construction at SRS is about 60 percent complete, but the project has undergone years of cost overruns and delays. Last month, the Government Accounta­bility Office said the plant is $3 billion over budget, now costing an estimated $7.7 billion. Construction began in 2007, and the GAO forecast that the facility wouldn’t be up and running until 2019 – three years later than originally planned.

The letter comes as senators consider the nomination of physics professor Ernest Moniz as secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the project. Graham has been vocal in his opposition to the nomination in protest of Obama’s plan to cut about $200 million from the MOX project and delayed a vote on Moniz’s nomination for three weeks. Scott cast the only vote opposing Moniz’s nomination in the Senate Energy Committee.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Com­mis­sion has given good marks to progress on the project for three years in a row, and contractor Shaw Areva MOX Services noted this week that workers have logged more than 15 million
consecutive work hours without a workday lost to injury.

However, MOX has been slow to attract customers for the commercial reactor fuel it will produce. MOX Services has said negotiations are underway with several utility companies interested in buying the fuel, but none has officially signed on.

In its recent budget request to Congress, the Obama administration said high costs “may make the project unaffordable” and that it would consider other possible ways to honor an agreement with Russia to dispose of plutonium. The senators say backing down on the MOX program at this point could result in Russia not holding up its end of the nonproliferation agreement, in which both nations committed to disposing of at least 34 metric tons each of weapons-grade plutonium.

On Wednesday, acting U.S. Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said the administration has been clear it needs to be a good steward of taxpayer money and see whether there is a better way to honor the disposition agreement.

“We are looking at all options, including MOX,” Poneman said to reporters in Washington just after a U.S. Senate budget hearing.

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Riverman1 05/16/13 - 10:27 am
So we spend billions on

So we spend billions on something and then decide it's unaffordable? Some of the commenters, such as Eagle Eye, said as much years ago. Where does the waste go if it's not finished?

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 05/16/13 - 11:16 am

Thanks for your comments, Riverman1. Graham would be smart to demand an investigation into the mismanagement and cost overruns of the MOX program and demand accountability and a shake-up in management at DOE and CB&I and AREVA. The track he's chosen makes it looks like he wants no scrutiny of the program, which is in dire need of vastly increased oversight. The cost of disposing of plutonium in WIPP appears to be much less than MOX and this needs to be analyzed. Graham needs to explain how MOX will be paid for but his lips are sealed. In the "out years" - Fiscal Years 2015-2018 and beyond - MOX will need an additional $500+ million not now in the budget and Graham will have to find that if there is any chance of MOX surviving. Will he try take it from DOE clean-up at other sites? The heat is on Graham to find a huge amount of money in a dwindling budget. Or, does he want the dept. of treasury just to print up that cash or borrow it from China and drive up the debt? Senator Graham, do tell! Many are waiting to know your funding plan. (Forget that MOX has no customers and that the MOX plant many have design problems as the first massive hurdle is funding.) MOX was mismanaged from the start and there was inadequate congressional oversight about how our money was spent. That same failed tactic, which Graham seems to be endorsing in an aggressive way and without proper facts simply won't work again.

Humble Angela
Humble Angela 05/16/13 - 01:25 pm
It is a shame that we turned

It is a shame that we turned this project over to such incompetent or unscrupulous people. The concept of MOX is a good one. It is a shame that we spent billions of dollars making plutonium, only to throw it away and gain nothing from it.

Bubba 05/16/13 - 02:15 pm
Graham said it plainly. We

Graham said it plainly. We have studied this to death. WIPP is in no way ready for 34 Metric tons of plutonium. Not even close. Besides that as soon as the naysayers have killed MOX, they'll move to try to kill WIPP. All this stop and wait just drives up the cost. You are 4 billion into this plant, and now you want to just seal up the concrete box and walk away and think? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. The problem isn't sa lack of scruples or competentcy. Since the argument has turned to money, waiting isn't going to do anything but make any option more expensive. Nobody could have predicted 12 or 14 years ago what the dearth of NQA-1 vendors would do to the price of equipment. You don't just run down to Lowe's and buy a slab tank. Let's just keep guarding plutonium for 500 million (and rising) a year. That's brilliant.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 05/17/13 - 07:36 am
back up claim?

For at least the second time, I see Bubba has said that it costs $500 million/year to guard the plutonium at SRS. That's an interesting figure and it would be useful to have documentation of it. Can you provide details on that expense from the DOE budget? If there's a page number for that figure in the Fiscal Year 2013 or 2014 budget or another DOE document that would be helpful to have. Did you see that the operating cost for the MOX plant went up to about $540 million per YEAR! Is that due to cost of nuclear quality materials? Where will Lindsey get that money from?

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