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Savannah River Sites's MOX plant cost estimates challenged

MOX cost estimates challenged

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A top executive with Areva, a parent company to the contractor building the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility, challenged government estimates for life-cycle costs of the plutonium disposition method at Savannah River Site.

David Jones, a senior vice president for Areva, said the U.S. Energy Department over-estimated life-cycle costs for the project without providing details of how it determined the cost estimate. Jones, who spoke to the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce Friday morning, said $4 billion has been spent so far on MOX and remaining costs including operating the facility for 20 years total less than $13 billion.

“Members of Congress have started asking Department of Energy to provide details on that number, but as yet, we have not seen those numbers,” he said.

Differences in cost estimates arose this week during congressional budget hearings, as U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz defended the $30 billion estimate. Moniz said a Government Accountability Report estimating costs at $24 billion did not include all components of the project.

“Right now, all the information points to that ($30 billion) being pretty much correct,” he said.

Bruce Held, interim administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the project, also stood by the $30 billion life-cycle cost. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated construction costs alone to total $10 billion, he said.

“That goes back to the original decision to rush construction before we had actually had a design,” Held said, adding that numerous construction change orders have been issued.

In 1999, the MOX plant was projected to cost $1.7 billion to build. The estimate rose to $4.9 billion and in 2013, the cost was revised to $7.7 billion.

Held said a report assessing alternatives to MOX would be released in a “couple of weeks” to help settle the cost differences. A suitable alternative would cost less than $20 billion, he said.

The four alternatives being assessed do not meet the nation’s agreement with Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium and would require further negotiations with Russia, Moniz said.

Also at the chamber of commerce meeting, Jones said contractor Shaw Areva MOX Services is “committed to completing construction.” The National Nuclear Security Administration has not issued orders to stop construction and no layoffs have been announced.

“Each day the workforce shows up and continues to perform,” he said.

Jones said a lawsuit filed by the state of South Carolina against the energy department has stalled the facility entering “cold standby,” as was proposed in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget request.


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