Seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging him to continue construction at the Savannah River Site’s mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility until more is known about costs for alternative plutonium disposition methods.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both South Carolina Republicans, and Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Georgia Republicans, were among the group that signed the letter Thursday. Other signatures came from Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
In its fiscal year 2015 budget Tuesday, the White House proposed $221 million to place the MOX facility on standby while assessing more cost-effective methods. The National Nuclear Security Administration began the process to shut down the construction site and protect and secure what has been completed.
Senators signing the letter criticized using fiscal 2014 funding to begin the process of placing the multibillion-dollar facility on “cold standby,” saying that funding was approved for construction only.
“The $211 million request is significantly lower than what is needed to maintain on-going operations and construction for MOX, will force major layoffs, and threaten the viability of the only congressional authorized disposition path for weapons grade plutonium,” the letter says. “It is our understanding the Department of Energy is planning to use (fiscal year) 2014 funds to begin this process. This would be inappropriate and we discourage this in the strongest possible terms.”
The MOX facility, which is about 60 percent complete, would create commercial nuclear fuel from weapons-grade plutonium and represents an international nonproliferation effort. About $3.9 billion has been spent so far, but construction cost estimates were revised last year to about $7.7 billion.
Discontinuing construction does not align with the White House administration’s contention that it is committed to an agreement between Russia and the U.S. to dispose of 34 metric tons of American weapons-grade plutonium, the letter says.