Messing up MOX

Shadowy study hampering mixed-oxide fuel facility at SRS

Government officials have claimed they are shuttering the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility under construction at Savannah River Site because its “life-cycle” costs are too high.

An oft-quoted but never-seen government study supposedly puts that figure at $30 billion.

The study exists, says the U.S. Department of Energy. The National Nuclear Security Administration and even the White House says so, too.

OK – so where is it?

Few people apparently have seen it. The MOX contractor has not seen it. Local officials have not seen it. Not even members of Congress have seen it.

The Obama administration has used this study for the past two months to derail a multibillion-dollar federal project tied to a global nuclear arms-reduction agreement. Shouldn’t it have been released by now?

Officials with the NNSA, the agency that manages the MOX facility, are not commenting on why the study has not been made available. And they also won’t say when it will be released.

Something smells awfully foul here.

It’s been rightly suspected from the moment President Obama’s 2015 budget abandoned the 60-percent-completed project that politics, not costs, were at play.

If the goal is to appease anti-nuclear environmentalists and punish a conservative-voting state – two things this president is not above doing – then eliminating MOX and the thousands of jobs tied to it accomplishes that task adroitly.

The state of South Carolina obviously suspects less-than-altruistic motivations. It filed suit last month against the federal government to stop it from putting the 600,000-square-foot facility into so-called “cold standby.”

The contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, doesn’t believe the government’s life-cycle estimates either. One of its senior executives last week estimated the project’s remaining costs at about $12 billion: $3 billion to finish construction, $1 billion to start it up and $8 billion to run it during the next 20 years.

That’s less than half of what the government estimates in its study – assuming there is such a study.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon