Despite challenges, MOX plant remains on schedule

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 6:41 PM
Last updated 7:54 PM
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NEW ELLENTON — Acclimating workers to a strict “nuclear culture” and procuring materials that meet nuclear construction standards are among the challenges facing the company building the government’s $4.8 billion mixed-oxide fuel project at Savannah River Site.

The $4.8 billion mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River Site will enter its fifth year of construction next month and remains on track for completion in 2016.  SPECIAL
The $4.8 billion mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River Site will enter its fifth year of construction next month and remains on track for completion in 2016.

“We’re not building a Walmart or a Kmart out there. We’re building a high-precision nuclear plant,” said Kelly Trice, the president of Shaw AREVA MOX Services, during a status briefing Tuesday before U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staffers.

The MOX plant is designed to dispose of surplus plutonium from dismantled nuclear bombs by blending it into fuel rods suitable for commercial power reactors.

The project remains on schedule for completion in 2016, Trice said, but has encountered some of the same challenges facing utilities building the first commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. in almost 30 years.

Since the MOX project began almost five years ago, quality control issues have emerged several times, first with faulty rebar in 2007, then studs and couplers and – most recently – substandard steel piping.

The piping, he added, was identified before being installed, and remains boxed up at the site.

“We proactively caught it, using our own process,” he said. “We didn’t learn about it due to a failure in the field.”

With more than 400 separate entities manufacturing components for the specialized plant, including some in foreign countries, the company has continually enlarged its inspection staff. Currently, Trice told NRC staffers, about 130 workers are assigned to quality assurance in vendor materials.

The company also has a rigorous, on-site testing protocol for construction materials.

“Part of what we do is to take a commonly available material, and then prove it’s suitable for nuclear construction,” he said.

Educating thousands of employees, most of whom are involved in nuclear construction for the first time, about the meticulous standards and record keeping required at the site has also been a challenge, he said.

“We’re having to teach people the nuclear culture,” he said.

Despite the challenges, the project has proceeded safely, with a recent milestone that included 10 million work-hours without a lost time injury and the NRC’s most recent quarterly inspection report finding no regulatory violations.

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bubbasauce 07/24/12 - 08:23 pm
I was a pipe welder at Mox 5

I was a pipe welder at Mox 5 years ago and I told Q.C. about the sub standard piping they were having us weld.They said I did not know what I was talking about and that it was the welders lack of ability. They even brought in so called expert welders from Washington state to prove they were right. Guess what? It was the sub standard material.

wildman 07/25/12 - 04:39 am
Said it before and I will say

Said it before and I will say it again, MOX equals MONEY PIT!

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 07/25/12 - 08:26 am
Schedule slippage, cost spiral

DOE is reviewing the cost of the MOX plant and the start-up dates but won't release this information publicly as it's likely bad news. The US House has said the price tag could go up $900 million, causing fiscal conservatives to start paying more attention to this boondoggle. The 2016 date is not the date for commercial operation. DOE is aiming for 8 fuel assemblies to be produced at the end of 2018 and won't say what type of reactor these are for as there are no takers for the fuel. What a business model - build a $6 billion plan and just hope it serves some purpose. Yes, MOX is nothing more than a money pit for special interests. Disposal of MOX as waste would cost about 1/3 of what's left to be spent on MOX.

DawgnSC69 07/25/12 - 08:38 am
A reason for delays...

The left-wing enviromental whackos who put a complete halt on the nuclear industry for nearly 3 decades can be blamed for the lack of experienced workers and non-conforming nuclear components and materials. Nearly all nuclear projects currently under way are experiencing these problems and DOE wants to hold the contractors responsible for it. They and the liberals are the ones that caused this mess in the first place. DOE needs to go!

jebsdaddy 07/25/12 - 10:09 pm
Bad Management

I worked at the Mox Project as a Senior Design Engineer for 2.5 years starting near the beginning of the project. It was the worst managed design I have ever seen in my career. The decent engineers left and the go along to get along stayed and contributed to a huge pile of wasted money. I have never seen so many ways to mess up an engineering drawing like I saw there but it didn't matter so long as something was produced. What a sad joke.

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