A key member of the U.S. House Energy & Commerce subcommittee is raising new questions about the construction schedule and eventual cost of the government’s $4.8 billion mixed oxide fuel plant under construction at Savannah River Site.
Citing reports that the MOX plant “may be over budget, behind schedule and lacking even a single customer for its product,” Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu for updated construction cost estimates for the project, along with a firm timeline for completion and operation.
The plant is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by blending it with uranium to make fuel for commercial power reactors, a process that renders the plutonium unusable for weapons.
“While there is near-universal agreement on the need for permanent disposal of our surplus weapons-grade plutonium, it is far from clear that the department’s current plan is the most cost effective means of doing so,” Markey wrote in a letter dated Monday.
Although the construction budget adopted in 2007 was $4.8 billion, Markey stated that the trade journal Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor cited an internal Department of Energy estimate that adds $2 billion to construction costs because of changes in commodity prices, personnel turnover and other factors.
The current schedule calls for the MOX fuel plant to open in 2016, with production of commercial fuel starting by 2018.