It’s as if fate itself has gone nuclear on the MOX project.
First President Trump’s budget proposed eliminating the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site near Augusta.
Then, this past week, a second defendant pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to swindle the MOX program out of more than $5 million. Aaron Vennefron and Phillip Thompson are to be sentenced in federal court later this year for the scheme involving phony invoices over a period of years.
It’s not been a particularly auspicious time to be fans of the MOX program – though everyone in this area, and anyone who favors the peaceful use of nuclear power, should be.
In short, MOX is a way to convert aging stockpiles of Cold War-era nuclear weapons into commercial-grade nuclear power. As Wikipedia puts it, “it is a way of utilizing surplus weapons-grade plutonium, an alternative to storage of surplus plutonium, which would need to be secured against the risk of theft for use in nuclear weapons.”
At one time, it was also a highly meaningful and very symbolic partnership with Russia, which would’ve made its aging nuclear weapons available to the SRS project. You want nonproliferation? This is even better.
But successive administrations now, both Obama’s and Trump’s, have cut away at the program. Trump’s proposed budget would swing a decisive ax against MOX.
We understand and fully support Mr. Trump’s intentions to streamline the federal government. But there are a very few functions that government, and only government, can perform. One of them is national security. A subset of that is our nuclear program, which the MOX project is on the way to becoming an integral part of that.
It’s also one of those rare political and environmental issues that liberals and conservatives should agree on. Converting surplus nuclear weapons to nuclear power is a win-win-win. It makes the world safer, it furthers a peaceable partnership with our chief Cold War rival, and it has the potential to feed clean energy production.
This is not a small or parochial issue. Disposing of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium from each country, as the MOX agreement would do, is of vital national and international interest.
“One kilogram of plutonium-239 releases more energy than the 64 kilograms of uranium that were in the Little Boy bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in World War II,” writes Popular Science.
Yet, Vladimir Putin suspended the agreement in a tit-for-tat dispute with the Obama administration over Syria, and now the U.S. is backing off as well.
“I was hoping the Trump administration’s budget proposal would mark a clean break from Obama’s failed approach to MOX,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said in a written statement. “Instead, it appears they are doubling-down.”
“MOX is the only facility in the nation that, when completed, would be able to convert weapons-grade plutonium into green fuel,” added Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
This area, with its decades of work at the old “bomb plant” at SRS, had a big role in winning the Cold War. It’s vital to winning the peace to let us finish the job, by finishing the MOX facility.