Sen. Lindsey Graham says reducing MOX costs could save the project

Thursday, April 25, 2013 1:04 PM
Last updated 10:19 PM
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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hopes to salvage the beleaguered mixed oxide fuel project by working with contractors and the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce the spiraling costs that led to its planned suspension.

“I will work with the administration to get the costs down, but I will not entertain for one minute a disposition plan other than MOX,” Graham said during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing this week.

The half-completed MOX facility at Savannah River Site is designed to dispose of surplus plutonium by blending it into commercial nuclear fuel. The plant has become increasingly expensive, with construction costs recently revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion.

DOE proposed cutting $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s
2014 construction budget, citing rising costs that might have rendered the plant unaffordable. In addition to slowing construction, the department plans to assess alternatives to MOX.

Graham said he remains confident in MOX and its technology and believes the costs can be reduced through closer scrutiny.

“We have studied this thing to death,” he said. “It’s time to get it built.”

Anne Harrington, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, told Graham that the “assessment pause” in the SRS project was not a plan to abandon the effort.

“MOX remains clearly on the table,” she said. “It’s not that we are disregarding MOX.”

Graham disagreed.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” he said. “You’re a very smart lady, but it’s not on the table.”

He cited a federal facilities agreement in which DOE would pay South Carolina about $100 million a year in fines if the plutonium disposition doesn’t move forward on schedule.

Graham, who negotiated a two-year extension to the agreement, said South Carolina residents want the plutonium processed and removed from the state, rather than having the federal government pay penalties.

He said he would not have worked to amend the agreement had he known the project would be suspended the next year.

About $4 billion has been spent on the MOX program, which employs about 2,300 workers.

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GiantsAllDay 04/25/13 - 02:58 pm
Which will happen first? A)

Which will happen first?
A) DWPF glass is shipped to yucca mountain
B) the first MOX fuel assembly is burned in a commercial reactor
C) Jesus makes his second appearance

Riverman1 04/25/13 - 03:06 pm
When all this started didn't

When all this started with the "Bum plant" decades ago, didn't the U.S. government promise to clean up all their left-overs on the plate like school lunches being dumped in the garbage cans? Now, do it!!! SRS, instead of Yucca Mt., is getting the garbage cans by default.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 04/25/13 - 03:22 pm
Hodges was right?

Former South Carolina governor Jim Hodges is proving to be right when he threatened to block the road to stop plutonium coming into the state with no exit path. Lindsey Graham may want MOX but the money isn't there to finish an $8-billion MOX plant than would cost $500 million a year to operate. Lindsey, in your next rant please explain where that money will come from. He may not have noticed but we're a little short of government cash these days. The end of a decade of blank checks for MOX is over.

Bubba 04/26/13 - 08:26 am
It costs 500 million a year

It costs 500 million a year to guard the plutonium right now, and that cost goes up every year. Eventually it's a wash. How's that for finding the money?

I find it so amazing that the people that are trying to kill that project but clearly have no better idea of how to deal with it. WIPP isn't prepared in any manner for 34 metric tons of plutonium. There are numerous reasons to not consider it. As soon as it would be announced as the plan, let the protestations begin. People who make their living complaining will just move on to complain about the next plan.

A vitrification plant would have to be built to dispose of the plutonioum that way. For a look at how horrible an idea that is, just google that money pit in Hanford that is so far behind and so over budget it makes my head want to explode and we just keep rolling the dump trucks of cash up to it and pouring it in.

Stay the course, you are 4 billion into it and you want to mothball it. Unblelieveable.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 04/26/13 - 09:58 am
accontability for MOX or not?

Once again - where is the accountability for the gross mismanagement and massive overspending for the MOX project? Why aren't politicians demanding accountability of DOE/NNSA and Shaw AREVA MOX Services? Who are they protecting by not doing so? When will heads roll? No accountability will be a signal to spend, spend, spend more and continue the mismanagement.

I realize for some that the mere idea of accountability will set off protestations and whining but the budget crisis has come home to roost on the back of this boondoggle and it can't continue with a big-government blank check. I know it's a stretch but perhaps one day even big-spender Lindsey Graham may have to agree to accountability when the fiscal conservatives in Congress demand it of the MOX project managers.

Cardinal88 04/27/13 - 04:12 pm
Stay the course but revise the final product

One of the primary reasons for the new delay and cost overrun is the unwise decision to modify the plant to produce BWR fuel. First,MOX is the only acceptable option to meet the US/Russian international agreement, Period! Second, the most important milestone is Mission Start, not how much is burned per year nor length of project. Recommendation - scrap the BWR fuel idea, get an utility owner/operator to commit at least one PWR reactor by giving them enough incentive to balance the risk they are taking and finish the MOX plant in a much shortened schedule and cost from what is being proposed. Not rocket science to figure this out but what it will take is a drastic change in the leadership and support for NNSA NA- 26.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 05/09/13 - 09:48 pm
endless MOX mission?

Using just one PWR for weapons-grade MOX, if it could obtain an NRC license, sounds like a way to stretch the project out as long as possible and maximize operating costs. The estimated cost in the budget request presented in April is a shopping $543 million a year to operate the MOX plant as it's being redesigned. Even at a part of that cost for a longer period will bring a big rip-off grin to the collective face of AREVA. Disposing of the plutonium as waste is cheaper and even DOE now states that no radiation barrier is needed to do so. And, yes a change in leadership in DOE and AREVA is needed. Why isn't Senator Graham calling for this? Who is he protecting and why???$$$

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