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Budget cuts for MOX plant feared

Thursday, April 4, 2013 4:18 PM
Last updated Friday, April 5, 2013 4:50 AM
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The consortium building the mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River Site is bracing for possible budget cuts that could stall a project already facing criticism for cost overruns and delays.

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The recent completion of the MOX plant's concrete roof was a major construction milestone, but contractors are bracing for possible funding cuts that would impact future progress.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
The recent completion of the MOX plant's concrete roof was a major construction milestone, but contractors are bracing for possible funding cuts that would impact future progress.

“It’s reasonable to say there would be a big impact,” said Kelly Trice, the president of Shaw AREVA MOX Ser­vices. He said Thursday that it is possible the fiscal year 2014 federal budget could include cuts for the program.

The MOX plant, part of the National Nuclear Secur­ity Admin­istration’s nonproliferation effort, is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium extracted from dismantled warheads. Blen­ding the material with uranium to make reactor fuel renders the plutonium permanently unusable for weapons.

If the new budget, to be released next week, includes cuts severe enough to cause even a temporary halt to construction, it could disperse an experienced workforce that would be difficult to reassemble, Trice said.

About 2,300 workers are employed at the site.

“In the short term, we could deal with it, but if it’s longer term, like multiple years, it’s harder to predict,” he said.

A 50 percent cut, he said, would allow the partly finished structure to remain intact and stable but would affect equipment and materials being made in many parts of the country. The effect on local jobs, he added, would depend on the impact on procurement.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy forecast that the plant’s $4.9 billion cost would increase to $7.7 billion and that the start of operations would be delayed from October 2016 to November 2019.

Trice said that original estimate goes back to 2005 and has risen because of the challenges of building a nuclear facility in a nation where such construction has not occurred in decades.

“The U.S. had a lot of nuclear manufacturing dormancy,” he said. “The cost of manufacturing high-level components is very challenging.”

The project, he said, has an excellent safety record and has met strict oversight and quality control standards imposed by the Nuclear Re­gu­la­tory Commission – but those have come at a cost.

“We’ve had to enhance oversight of vendors and suppliers to the point of embedding inspectors in their shops,” he said, adding that there are more than 400 contracts under way for materials produced in 40 states.

The MOX plant is a one-of-a-kind facility that has undergone design refinements, along with increases in commodity and equipment prices. Also affecting price and schedule is the increasing cost of personnel, Trice said: Turnover in the nuclear industry has been accelerated by competition from nearby nuclear projects.

“All those complications have really challenged us, but we are able to work through them,” Trice said.

Though critics have called for a halt to the MOX program, Trice said he believes it will survive.

“My gut feeling is good,” he said. “My belief is that the administration is firmly on our side and they believe this is important. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.”

Trice had positive news about potential new clients interested in using MOX reactor fuel.

“There are several new players who want to participate in the program,” he said. Low natural gas prices have pushed nuclear power producers to become more competitive, he said.

Critics continue to seek a halt to the project, citing the absence of reliable long-term “life-cycle cost” estimates that could become astronomical. Tom Clements, the South­eastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, called the plant a “monument to mismanagement.”

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GiantsAllDay
9578
Points
GiantsAllDay 04/04/13 - 05:44 pm
2
5
Cuts my eye! 1) Abandon the

Cuts my eye!
1) Abandon the project; don't spend another dime on it.
2) Tear the whole thing down; sell all excess material and equipment.
3) Distribute the proceeds to the working poor and disabled war veterans.
4) Have Dr. Clint Wolfe write a guest editorial this Sunday, apologizing to the citizens of the United States of America.

SCEagle Eye
910
Points
SCEagle Eye 04/04/13 - 07:11 pm
2
1
MOX accountability?

Who will be held accountable for this massive big-government boondoggle? A $7.7 billion concrete box that will likely never be used for any MOX fabrication. Would you bet that any top NNSA or Shaw AREVA managers will get the boot? As usual, they will be rewarded for grossly negligent mismanagement and massive overspending of the tax payers' money.

wildman
1113
Points
wildman 04/04/13 - 08:01 pm
2
1
Money Pit

Some smart congress person needs to figure this out and stop the unecessary spending. NNSA should be disbanded, why pay for two programs when one will work. I am begging some smart congress person to grab this and run with it. MOX and NNSA=Money Pit

Radwaste
404
Points
Radwaste 04/05/13 - 09:34 am
1
1
Naive: That's You.

Gents; tearing down something ALSO requires money, for the labor and materials to do so. These structures are not designed to be temporary - in case you haven't noticed, they include containment for seriously dangerous materials.
If you have a better solution for the problem of excess Plutonium - or other fissile material - inventory, please say so. Join with others to produce a plan with a better return on investment.
Because, right now, people with a clear view of the problem, whether they stand to profit by this issue or not, recognize that whining is not a solution.

bubbasauce
20603
Points
bubbasauce 04/05/13 - 10:56 am
1
1
Good comment radwaste! People

Good comment radwaste! People who sit at home and have no clue what is going on at Mox really need to not comment.

SCEagle Eye
910
Points
SCEagle Eye 04/05/13 - 11:45 am
1
1
The only whining I'm hearing

The only whining I'm hearing is from NNSA and AREVA and fellow profiteers, who think there is some obligation by tax payers to continue dumping money into the MOX black hole. DOE should never have killed the cheaper option to vitrifying plutonium in high-level waste and that should be started up again. SRS has already shipped plutonium to WIPP and is planning more shipments and acknowledges in the draft EIS on plutonium disposition (out soon or delayed again?) that there is no need for a radiation barrier to dispose of plutonium. Options exits but will those up to their neck in the MOX boondoggle let go of the big-government pocketbook long enough to even have a discussion?

GiantsAllDay
9578
Points
GiantsAllDay 04/05/13 - 01:12 pm
0
1
Please don't tell me I have

Please don't tell me I have no idea what's going on at MOX. I could write a guest column. AC please contact me if you're interested in investigative journalism.

GiantsAllDay
9578
Points
GiantsAllDay 04/05/13 - 01:34 pm
0
1
Hey to my sequestered

Hey to my sequestered friends! The home opener is at 1:35. PT. (SP Barry Zito) They are going to hoist the WS flag at 12:35. The giants are keeping pretty mum about who's going to hoist it. My guess is Willie Mays. Hopefully you'll have a tv close so you can see it.

Radwaste
404
Points
Radwaste 04/05/13 - 07:42 pm
0
0
Re: Giants All Day

Please go on, then. Produce an alternative. That's all I'm looking for, and you have not done that yet. In fact, your comments calling for "don't spend another dime", and "tear it down" strongly indicate you do NOT understand the construction and dismantling of facilities like MOX - because you acted, briefly, as if some work is free.
Maybe someone else has shown another path forward with the ROI. In that case, please point!

As for obligations: the horrible truth is that the USA is paying its own defense debts, AND those of other countries sheltered by our policies. These debts are not gone until the last gram of nuclear material has been disposed in some manner.
Many people have objected to anyone even having a job at SRS, but this waste cannot be wished away.

Anyone else may also play this game. Be sure to note that physics, not politics, has the last word on what is possible.

Radwaste
404
Points
Radwaste 04/07/13 - 10:20 pm
0
0
No Alternative?

I see that no one has an alternative to the current MOX project. I'm not surprised.

I do hope someone can reel in spending, and seriously question the expertise of those who cannot seem to name the cost of their services - even as I note the dollar is worth less daily.

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