Study sees flaws in Obama MOX decision

A new summary of economic analyses criticizes an alternative to Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fab­rication Facility that the Obama administration favors.

 

The May 5 report compiles recent studies created by High Bridge Associates for the MOX Services Board of Governors, the panel running the consortium with the U.S. Department of Energy contract for construction of the MOX facility.

High Bridge conducted eight separate reviews of the science, technology, finances and other aspects of conclusions that DOE made leading up to the administration’s decision to scrap MOX. The construction company’s consultants concluded that DOE was wrong to cancel the building contract.

“High Bridge found no evidence that DOE rigorously analyzed this assumption in sufficient detail to meet regulatory compliance, scientific feasibility, and cost and schedule impacts,” High Bridge wrote.

The Department of Energy isn’t very impressed with High Bridge’s work, either.

“High Bridge Associates has released several reports regarding plutonium disposition based on ill-founded assumptions,” Francie Israeli, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s press secretary, said in a written response to The Chronicle when the science portion of the report was released in early March. “Based on informed assessments from the DOE laboratories, the High Bridge conclusions were judged to be simplistic and not credible.”

The latest report from High Bridge concludes that DOE took shortcuts in its estimates of the savings possible from switching from MOX to the so-called dilute-and-dispose option.

Both processes seek to meet a 16-year-old treaty with Russia to make 34 metric tons of weapons-grade nuclear material no longer usable for bombs. MOX would turn it into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, whereas dilute-and-dispose would simply store it forever in a less-concentrated form.

Construction of a MOX processing facility at Savannah River Site is behind schedule and about $8 billion over budget, by some critics’ estimates. The administration says that’s why it wants to shut the program down and use a different method of disposing of 34 metric tons of plutonium.

“DOE has cited an estimated $47.5 billion in escalated life-cycle cost as the primary reason for its decision to cancel the MOX Program,” the builders’ consultants wrote. “High Bridge evaluated life-cycle costs for MOX to be $19.4 billion in present day (fiscal year 2014) dollars with escalated life-cycle costs of $25.2 billion.”

In sum, the consultants concluded that dilute-and-dispose would take longer and cost more than MOX. The added costs that High Bridge included come from its assumption that greater safety measures would be needed to dispose of the diluted plutonium in underground salt caverns in New Mexico than DOE planned to use.

Anti-nuclear activist Edwin Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists dismissed those assumptions.

“The High Bridge report, at every opportunity, makes faulty assumptions that greatly exaggerate the cost of the dilute-and-dispose option and minimize the cost of the MOX option,” he wrote in an email Monday.

 

MOX gets mixed grades from Energy Department
Senate panel votes for MOX funding cuts
Nunn and others buck Obama administration on MOX
Putin opposed to scrapping MOX
Federal budget proposal calls for shutdown of Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site
Obama's budget could make future of MOX project clearer
 

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