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MOX standby renews community fears about jobs, site's future

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For nearly two decades, the Augusta and Aiken areas have been riding waves of uncertainty concerning Savannah River Site’s mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility. Another wave’s here.

Last week, the National Nuclear Security Administration began a process to place the multibillion-dollar, under-construction facility on standby in light of continuous federal funding drawbacks. The Obama administration said Tuesday in its fiscal 2015 budget proposal that the Department of Energy needs to assess cheaper alternatives to the facility, which has already cost $3.9 billion.

The same worries that have concerned stakeholders for years are back: jobs, the local economy, national security and the future of the Savannah River Site.

“It has a national impact but we are the ones who will feel it the hardest, fastest,” said Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jameson.

Years before ground was broken in 2007 on the facility intended to process weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel, politicians and area leaders lobbied for the nuclear facility while environmentalists petitioned to keep plutonium out of the area. The first-of-its-kind nonproliferation mission promised thousands of jobs for Savannah River Site.

The MOX site has a current workforce of about 1,800, but more than 2,000 have worked there at points during construction.

A highly skilled construction workforce has completed about 60 percent of the 600,000-square-foot MOX plant. Retaining those jobs has become the focus of area economic partners.

No announcements have been made about layoffs since the president’s budget proposal. The NNSA said it will discuss workforce impacts with Shaw Areva MOX Services, the primary contractor for the project.

“We are currently working with the contractor to develop a cold stand-by implementation plan,” said NNSA spokeswoman Keri Fulton.

During cold standby, the facility and equipment will be protected from the environment and the site and government documents secured. An analysis of MOX alternatives will be completed in 12 to 18 months.

Rick McLeod, executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, said workers will move out of the area if there are massive layoffs. If the federal government ever resumed MOX, it would be difficult to attract them back to a project that has a reputation for instability.

“It’s easy to cut, but how do you start it back and get that trained workforce back,” McLeod said.

An economic impact study of Savannah River Site – not just the MOX project – found that 2½ jobs are created in the area for every one job at the South Carolina site. Half of SRS employees live in Aiken County and a third in Georgia, according to the study that examined Columbia and Richmond counties in Georgia and Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties in South Carolina.

Jameson said shutting down MOX has a regional and national impact. In addition to layoffs affecting area businesses, the massive construction project has contracts in dozens of states.

“It could be an instant impact. That is a real scenario,” Jameson said about potential layoffs.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said last week the administration was committed to a nonproliferation agreement to dispose of 64 metric tons of U.S. and Russian plutonium. MOX had been the chosen path, but it was no longer feasible without a substantial cost reduction.

According to a Government Accountability Office report released last year, construction costs were revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion. Most recently, cost estimates for the program’s life-cycle ballooned to $30 billion.

The sky-high costs to build MOX were known from the beginning, said McLeod. Up-and-down budget changes, including the most recent that proposed $221 million to place MOX plant on standby, contribute to continual distrust in the community, he said.

Clint Wolfe, executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness and a proponent of MOX, said the region has been “betrayed” by the federal government.

“MOX was a 100-percent possibility,” Wolfe said. “It’s a very serious blow to the future of the site.”

Alternatives to MOX offer only a degree of certainty, Wolfe said. During escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the nation needs to focus on plutonium disposition.

“It’s a very dangerous time to be playing around with international agreements that have to deal with our national and international security,” he said.

The Savannah River Site – a former Cold War weapons site – needs an operation like MOX in its future, said McLeod.

“We don’t want to see the site become a closure site,” he said. “For new missions at the site, (the federal government) is going to have to look at other things besides cleanup.”

Jameson agreed that the site has a dismal future without MOX, and the energy department needs to look at new missions for SRS in addition to cleanup.

Even with the president’s proposal, leaders retain a bit of hope that MOX won’t be gone forever. The community has gotten used to riding the project’s ups and downs, Jameson said.

“The MOX obituary has been written in the past,” McLeod said. “This isn’t definite.”

Comments (11) Add comment
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GiantsAllDay
9578
Points
GiantsAllDay 03/08/14 - 11:43 pm
2
0
Jameson and Wolfe. How do

Jameson and Wolfe. How do they sleep at night?

FastFission
31
Points
FastFission 03/09/14 - 05:08 am
0
0
Dr. Chu Has Departed Wash DC

With Dr. Chu gone - Gen Frank Klotz should be confirmed by the Senate and allowed to correct the NNSA problems.

SCEagle Eye
913
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/09/14 - 09:33 am
2
2
booster, show us the money

Once again, MOX boosters can't say where an additional $25 billion of tax-payer money would come from to pull off the dodgy MOX project. Just keep running up the debt off the back of tax payers? Plus, where are the clients (reactors)? Why such an abysmal failure of boosters and SRS managers to get viable, clean projects to the Savannah River Site?

Clemsondoc
169
Points
Clemsondoc 03/09/14 - 09:52 am
1
0
Maybe local governments can work to attract private investments

With the amount of skilled talent the local area has in nuclear energy/nuclear chemicals I would hope our local governments are working on attracting civilian companies to the area that deal in these same fields.

FastFission
31
Points
FastFission 03/09/14 - 12:01 pm
0
1
Dr. Chu Effect

The Dr. Chu way of conducting business was attractive to Solyndra but not Southern Company - Dr. Moniz has changed that but he has his orders to kill MOX. Therefore he is making decisions that only the NNSA Admin should and using construction funds illegally. Gen Klotz when confirmed would replace an acting NNSA Amin (Bruce Held).

sawgrass
1660
Points
sawgrass 03/09/14 - 01:40 pm
1
1
SCEagleEye

You are misleading people by saying it will cost the taxpayers an additional 25 million dollars to complete the MOX project. While your figure is extremely inflated, that cost includes the entire plutonium disposition program. That program includes many sites and locations throughout the country. Also, your inflated figures include startup, commissioning, operations and final decommissioning of the MOX project.

How would you suggest disposal of weapons grade plutonium? Glassification is not the answer.

SCEagle Eye
913
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/09/14 - 02:17 pm
1
1
MOX math = unsustainable

Do the bad math on the overall MOX program: another $5 billion in MOX plant construction and equipment, maybe $500 million start-up cost, $543 million/year operating cost (from FY 2014 budget), $100 million/year waste management, $100 million/year administration x ~20 years. Plus, payment to utilities (of which there are none), plutonium feedstock preparation and D&D. $25 billion may be conservative. If you have better figures, please present them as NNSA has covered up their MOX cost estimates. DOE should not have killed the all-immobilization option at the end of the Clinton administration/start of G. W. Bush administration. It's rightfully back on the table due to the self-imposed MOX debacle.

sawgrass
1660
Points
sawgrass 03/09/14 - 02:30 pm
1
2
SCEagleEye

There are on-sight utilities. Plus, you haven't taken into account the selling of the MOX fuel. Yes, there are customers already committed.

dwb619
93244
Points
dwb619 03/09/14 - 08:29 pm
2
0
customers

I am curious as to whom the customers are.
As I understand Duke Power ran a short cycle of MOX fuel and pulled out.

TVA isn't interested.
Also, MOX electricity is obtained by it's own sub-station, fed from SCE&G 335kv transmission line.

SCEagle Eye
913
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/09/14 - 06:53 pm
2
0
who are MOX customers???

Sawgrass (or anyone else), please document the claim that "there are customers already committed" to use MOX. Please name them. I have an email in December 2013 from TVA saying there has been no movement since about May 2013 concerning a report on MOX use. The release of the final Supplemental EIS on MOX use by TVA has been delayed since October 2012 and been formally "under departmental review" since August 2013 - that's going nowhere fast. (See DOE EIS schedule of Feb. 21, 2014: http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/02/f8/KeyEISChart-2-21.pdf) Thanks!

Georgia born
4
Points
Georgia born 03/09/14 - 10:05 pm
2
0
Nuclear waste disposal/Local development strategy/rhetoric

There is still no site selected for the nation's commercial waste, a site that was supposed to be operating by 1993. So, to this commercial waste which is still being generated you propose to add even more waste? I certainly hope the containment technology for this type of waste has improved since reprocessing was attempted in West Valley, NY. That abandoned sacrificial zone (not host community, sacrificial zone) has an underground plume of unknown origin leaching into nearby bodies of water and containment that has already failed, and which has now been added to ever increasing piles of radioactive waste. This is not a side issue. This is not someone else's department. This is an industry wide problem.

Per the comments on economic impacts of a facility, a more responsible development strategy is to identify an industry or industries that uses local and develops human resources that are native to a region. When an official states "we are working to keep these jobs here" this suggests a labor force with insufficient local ties to an area. The false conventional wisdom of the multiplier effects of the construction industry improperly diverts attention to the construction industry and everything else becomes auxiliary. This is not at all sustainable. It is not at all balanced. It is not t all fair.

The title of this article was remarkable. There seems to be something about this industry and technology that always brings up the word "fear". I mean no disrespect when I point out that if folks actually believed this facility contributed to national security, your local interest groups would have nothing to fear. Perhaps folks have noticed that in spite of our nation's vast nuclear arsenal we still sustained an attack that was so incredibly devastating that we have given up the ship on our civil liberties. Framing this problem as a site specific issue is completely disingenuous, particularly when there is reference to keeping the plutonium out. No site exists in a vacuum and these sites are usually located near bodies of water. Water has a way of crossing a site's boundaries and dangerous stuff needs to be shipped in. A person would have to live in a hole somewhere to not notice the dreadful condition of our nation's infrastructure or be uninformed of the numbers of spills and accidents that have been happening around the country.

Thank you for your attention.

SCEagle Eye
913
Points
SCEagle Eye 03/13/14 - 07:52 am
2
0
no MOX customers and no money

It is noted that sawgrass nor anyone else has revealed who the secret customers are. Likewise, nobody has revealed where the additional $25 billion for MOX would come from. This is exactly the strategy adopted by Senator Lindsey Graham and Rep. Joe Wilson, who want to keep their foot on the same old debt-inducing track and not hold anyone accountable for the MOX mess they helped create. How can they ever again claim to be fiscal conservatives?

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