MOX is a mix of oxides of uranium and plutonium that can be used as fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. It removes some plutonium from the sticky fingers of terrorists. Sound good? Yes, until the cost of doing this soared.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has recently said that if MOX is shelved, she wants the plutonium out of South Carolina. That is silly, but it reflects a 2002 federal law that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had demanded.
Apparently, idiocy is endemic.
First, our plutonium problem. With welcome reductions in our nuclear arsenal, we now have about a hundred tons of plutonium in storage. In the wrong hands, less than 20 pounds of it could make a nuclear bomb. That would be a catastrophe. We must store it securely for decades. Savannah River Site would be logical for this job, with its huge area and a staff experienced in handling plutonium. This would provide good jobs that the governor should have jumped at.
MOX’s design capacity is to disable one ton of plutonium per year, so if MOX were the way to work it off, it would take more than a hundred years. A stock of one ton requires as much protection as for 100 tons.
With the huge increase in fixed costs from construction, would it be profitable? If we plan to cancel the program, we would end up writing off the sunk costs, so why not do it anyway? Would it then be profitable? If MOX fuel can’t be sold at a profit, why continue with it?
In summary, MOX has no value in ridding us of our stored plutonium.
Alternatives must be sought for that. The United States will need to have one or several plutonium storage sites, indefinitely. South Carolina should accept the job for one of them.