Site for MOX is accepted

AIKEN --- Construction work at a $4.8 billion plant that will convert plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads into fuel safe enough for commercial reactors was given a passing grade Monday by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Work began in 2007 on the 600,000-square-foot Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site, where 34 metric tons of plutonium will be converted to commercial nuclear reactor fuel over a 20-year period.

The commission's inspectors spent more than 4,300 staff hours over a two-year period evaluating all aspects of the project, including quality control programs, construction activities and record-keeping, said Deborah Seymour, the chief of the NRC's Construction Projects Inspection Branch.

"There were no specific areas that needed improvement," she said, noting that the only minor violations were detected.

David Stinson, the president of Shaw AREVA MOX Services LLC, the primary contractor, said he is pleased with the progress so far.

"We started out with a very large hole with a concrete ramp," he said, adding that -- eventually -- the project will use 170,000 tons of concrete and 7,000 tons of re-enforcing steel bars.

Although the NRC found no major problems, Dr. Edwin Lyman, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program, said by teleconference Monday night that he was "appalled" that the report failed to explore faulty rebar that found its way to the site.

"You went over performance, management and quality assurance and came up with no improvement needed," he said. "How do you justify a statement like that?"

The rebar problem was also noted in a Dec. 10 report issued by the House Energy and Water Subcommittee.

"DOE has received a notice of violation on accepting delivery of over 3,000 tons of reinforcement bar that did not meet industry standards for nuclear facilities," the report said. "This infraction indicates problems with DOE's implementation of an adequate quality assurance program, a key component of the Department's project management guidance."

Tony Gody, the NRC's deputy director for the division of construction projects, said during Monday's meeting that the rebar problem was detected early and immediately corrected by the contractor, which subsequently changed suppliers.

"It did not meet our threshold for areas needing improvement," Mr. Gody said.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

MIXED OXIDE FUEL FABRICATION

PURPOSE: Convert weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled warheads into commercial nuclear reactor fuel.

STATUS: Construction began in 2007, with full operation expected by 2016.

IMPACT: The MOX plant will dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium and create 800 jobs.

PRIMARY CONTRACTOR: Shaw AREVA MOX Services LLC