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Vote in U.S. House could further delay MOX plant

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AIKEN - South Carolina's push to get rid of plutonium at Savannah River Site that's been taken from old nuclear weapons faces another delay.

Construction of a mixed oxide, or MOX, factory that is supposed to turn the radioactive material into fuel for commercial nuclear plants wouldn't start until August or later under a resolution the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on today.

Energy Department officials wanted to start building the facility last fall.

U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., criticized some of his peers for the proposed delay.

"Any member who supports this language owes the people of South Carolina and taxpayers across the nation an explanation as to why," he said in a statement. But given the political opposition it faces, some say supporters should feel lucky that the construction might start at all.

"They should be pleased that Congress did not eliminate the project," said Ernie Chaput, a former Energy Department manager at SRS. "I think we just need to continue to impress on people sitting on the fence that this is an important international, nonproliferation effort, and it will make the world a safer place."

In 2000, the U.S. and Russia agreed to simultaneously build MOX factories to get rid of 34 metric tons of weapons plutonium in both nations. Russia has since balked, which has at least one congressman calling for officials to kill the project and seek an alternative.

Congress has yet to approve the Energy Department's 2007 budget, even though the fiscal year started in October. The proposal to delay construction is included in a continuing resolution, which will likely provide SRS with the same amount of money for MOX that it got in 2006, or roughly $220 million for the rest of 2007.

"The good news is that we know that the project will move forward on Aug. 1," said Richard Perry, the chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

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SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 02/10/07 - 08:40 am
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The option to vitrify or

The option to vitrify or immobilize surplus plutonium in existing high-leve waste at the Savannah River Site is the best option for disposition of this deadly material. From an environmental,economoic and non-prolifreration perspective immobilization beats MOX hands down. Processing of bomb-grade plutonium into fuel and its introduction into commerece is fraught with risks and Congress has taken a smart step by freezing all funds for the MOX plant until at least August 2007. As immobilization willgo forward in any casedue to some plutonium being dirty, Congress should terminate the MOX program and go with the "single track" imoobilization method for all surplus plutonium. Stay tuned for an Environmental Impact Statement announcement on this process.

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