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MOX future questioned as federal budgets shrink

Sunday, April 14, 2013 4:47 PM
Last updated 10:43 PM
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In 2005, when ground was broken for the mixed oxide fuel plant at Savannah River Site, the one-of-a-kind nuclear project held a bright future with thousands of jobs and a vital new mission.

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The cost of the mixed oxide fuel plant under construction at Savannah River Site has risen from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion, stirring concern the project could be stalled by budget cuts.  SPECIAL/FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
SPECIAL/FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
The cost of the mixed oxide fuel plant under construction at Savannah River Site has risen from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion, stirring concern the project could be stalled by budget cuts.

Today, however, as spiraling costs clash with limited federal budgets, the half-finished MOX plant, along with its 2,300 jobs, could be in jeopardy.

Congress is reviewing the Obama administration’s new assertion that the program “may be unaffordable,” which could leave its future very much in question.

The top-secret factory, with 600,000 square feet and three times as much steel as the Eiffel Tower, was designed to dispose of plutonium from thousands of dismantled warheads by blending it into fuel for commercial power reactors.

The MOX plant was projected in 1999 to cost $1.7 billion. The estimate rose to $4.9 billion – and last month was revised to $7.7 billion with news that its completion would be three years later than planned.

Observers believe the U.S. Energy Department’s fiscal 2014 budget request, which slashed $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s construction budget, is a sign the project will be halted, and possibly abandoned.

Tom Clements, the south­eastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, believes the limited 2014 funds will be even leaner in subsequent years, rendering the project unsustainable.

“This could be the death of the program,” he said, citing reports that the fiscal 2015 outlook suggests just $225 million for MOX. “To me, that is closeout,” he said.

Although about $4 billion has been spent on the project, which is about 60 percent complete, administration officials now say other options must be considered.

“This current plutonium disposition approach may be unaffordable … due to cost growth and fiscal pressure,” the 2014 budget summary said, adding that officials will “assess the feasibility of alternative plutonium disposition strategies.”

Clements said it is very possible a project could be halted, even after spending $4 billion.

“The problem isn’t the $4 billion they’ve already spent,” he said. “It’s how much it would cost looking forward if they go ahead with it, and we have calculated that figure at $22 billion.”

It might be cheaper and faster, he said, to vitrify the unwanted plutonium in glass to be sealed in steel canisters, as the site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility has successfully done with other materials since 1996, processing more than 3,600 containers.

Although the immediate impact of proposed budget cuts to MOX have not been released, the president of the consortium building the project shared concerns last week of losing a workforce that has taken years to assemble.

“In the short term, we could deal with it, but if it’s longer term, like multiple years, it’s harder to predict,” said Kelly Trice, the president of Shaw AREVA MOX Services, noting that there are currently about $500 million in procurement contracts in various stages of completion.

Trice, who spoke to reporters mainly to share details of a MOX milestone – the completion of the building’s concrete roof – noted that the structure still has 110 openings for equipment that has not yet been delivered. Halting construction, he said, would still require further efforts to stabilize the site.

Some of South Carolina’s lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, are working to save MOX.

“Given that the president’s recent budget suggestion is just a proposal, no workforce reduction numbers have been discussed,” said his spokeswoman, Caroline Delleney.

“Congressman Wilson is doing his best to advocate for the MOX facility and will continue to do so throughout the appropriations process,” she said. “He has been in contact with several committees that will be responsible for appropriating resources for the plant.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is also part of “a concerted effort to right this ill-conceived decision,” said his spokesman, Kevin Bishop.

Graham noted in a statement that be believes the MOX program has been thoroughly studied and evaluated. “The MOX plant has always been and will remain the best plan to dispose of weapons grade plutonium,” he said.

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atom.girl
19
Points
atom.girl 04/14/13 - 08:55 pm
0
0

One Man's Spin is Another Man's Lies

MOX is three years behind schedule? It was originally supposed to start manufacturing the plutonium fuel in 2007. Now the projected finish date is 2019, uh, that's 12 years behind schedule. If DOE can't even do the simple math, or speak the truth, do you really want to trust it to keep up with 50 tons of plutonium, 63,000 atom bombs worth?? Let's pull the plug on this miserable boondoggle and get on with some serious business to secure our plutonium inventory. Secure it in the abundant fission by-products languishing in the SRS tank farm already.

exmox
5
Points
exmox 04/15/13 - 06:01 am
0
0

main problem

The biggest problems they had were the french who always had to put there nose in everything. The other big problem was the management that wanted things out the door to make there numbers look good. Knowing everything we sent out was wrong. Even when we told them it was wrong. Get it out the door. Now they have to deal with 20,000+ change notices to fix it.

Bubba
124
Points
Bubba 04/15/13 - 11:19 am
0
0

Bubba says

Tsk tsk... Vitrification was considered back around the time of the Clinton administration, and was a non-starter then, just like now. Note in the article that it's Clements own "Friends of the Earth" who estimate 22 Billion. I can't imagine why they didn't guess 44 billion, or a gazillion. No serious impartial guess will ever come from that crowd. 60% done, and you are going to walk away from it and think of another answer? Where are all those vitirified steel drums now that have been processed with low level waste? Sitting? Wiating? Headed for Yucca Mountain? Oops, guess not. We spend 500 million a year to guard that plutonium. Consider that while FOE says we should stop a 60% completed project and think about some other plan. More money thinking, more money guarding plutonium. Brilliant.

digmick
20
Points
digmick 04/15/13 - 12:41 pm
1
0

Cut The Federal Budget!

Oh wait, we didn't mean when it comes to our stuff.

digmick
20
Points
digmick 04/15/13 - 12:47 pm
1
0

Cut The Federal Budget!

Wait, we didn't mean when it will effect us.

obkad
201
Points
obkad 04/15/13 - 12:50 pm
2
0

too Costly

Having been involved in several projects and as a retired SRS worker I know full well of the wasted monies already spent on several projects at SRS only to get killed by overspending, unproven technologies, wasteful management practices, and just plain stupid politics. This "death Blow" was coming several years ago when it was determined no one wanted to patricpate in this giant waste. 4 billion dollars already spent,, gee I wonder how many EBT, and welfare payment this could have funded.. Better yet this could have paid for obummer care without having to tax the poor public... This will be shut down like, ITP, K-Reactor cooling tower, naval fuels.. wait and see..

stalemate2
5
Points
stalemate2 04/17/13 - 01:45 pm
0
0

MOX plant

Some Japanese communities have opposed using MOX fuel in their reactors even before the Fukushima accident. I am not certain about the reasons but they may be concerned over the fact that MOX fuel has a higher percentage of Plutonium than the usual nuclear reactor fuel. This may pose more risks to residents in the area than normal fuel if there is an accident. Also, I have heard that some existing reactors need to be modified to be able to use MOX fuel. This of course requires additional expenditures. It is important to find out why there is a slowdown in development of the MOX plant. Is it due to the design of the plant, a poor market for the product, the economy or some other consideration. If it is eventually going to be shut down why spend any more money on it. If there are existing contracts perhaps the contracts can be terminated with an appropriate penalty. Susanne E. Vandenbosch

stalemate2
5
Points
stalemate2 04/19/13 - 12:29 pm
0
0

MOX plant future

Ernest Moniz, if confirmed as the Secretary of Energy, may evaluate the MOX facility. He has an interest in it as he was involved in the agreement to use Russian plutonium in a MOX plant and reduce the proliferation risk from this material. This is an important goal and I do not believe that he will want to abandon the MOX facility unless there are very important reasons for doing so.

parrdennis
4
Points
parrdennis 04/22/13 - 03:22 pm
0
0

mox costs

When work is started with an incomplete design and record package because the DOE didn't feel it necessary to spend the extra money for the completed design from the French. Well, it is what it is. Now that the design has had all the corrections made, they want to quit now? That's like building 1/2 a house so you can pitch a tent next to it.

SCEagle Eye
727
Points
SCEagle Eye 05/07/13 - 08:20 am
1
0

accountability

Putting aside the fate of the MOX project, where is the accountability for gross mismanagement and massive overspending and for pursuing a project with no clients? Why aren't politicians like Senator Lindsey Graham demanding accountability rather than advocating pouring more money down the MOX boondoggle rat hole? That Graham isn't demanding full accountability tells you he's protecting the overspending and mismanagement. If you see him tell him that there's a budget crisis which means we can't fund what all the misguided projects that big spenders like him want.

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