Don't believe 'environmental groups' about SRS MOX project

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I read an article in this newspaper March 14 that reported contentions by “environmental groups” (read that as anti-nuclear, anti-Savannah River Site) that the SRS mixed-oxide project costs were too high.

They based their concern on increased operating costs and costs to modify facilities rather than building a new facility to disassemble plutonium pits. The latter approach, if taken, is a cost-saving strategy, not an increase in cost.

ANOTHER PERPLEXING statement in the article is: “The groups contend the MOX program’s operating costs will exceed $10 million.” Indeed, the project’s own estimates are that annual operating costs of the facility will be on the order of $400 million, creating several hundred jobs for the next 20 years.

I spent a portion of my career participating in deliberations concerning the disposition of plutonium pits and other plutonium-bearing materials. I can assure you that there is no responsible, low-cost approach to managing plutonium. Every proposed solution costs a lot of money and/or leaves the plutonium vulnerable to recovery for use in nuclear weapons, and that includes what we are doing now – storage and surveillance.

The MOX project not only converts this material into a form that can never again be used for nuclear weapons but into a fuel that will produce $50 billion worth of electricity and will enable us to eliminate the expense of storage and surveillance of the plutonium in the future. From a societal point of view, we accomplish all of our stewardship and nonproliferation goals; eliminate the need for future costs of management of this material; and generate pollution-free energy.

We should not forget the reason we are doing this. We made a deal with the Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union to reduce the number of strategic weapons in our arsenals. The Russians knew that the MOX approach would assure them that the plutonium would not be used in weapons again.

AS PART OF the same deal we agreed to buy enriched uranium from dismantled Soviet weapons. Those weapons once aimed at the United States and our allies now supply 10 percent of our electricity. These programs brought relief to a generation of Americans, Russians and people of all nations who had been living under the cloud of the Cold War, fearing the worst.

The MOX project is an incarnation of the notion of turning swords into plowshares. We should rejoice that we have agreements that reduce the nuclear weapons threat while turning the weapons into energy for schools, hospitals, manufacturing and homes.

One has to wonder how a legitimate “environmental” group can oppose a project that is such a perfect solution to the problems at hand. This project has not had a single environmental violation; has recorded more than 8 million work hours without a lost day because of injury; compiled a superb safety record; and the latest Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection reported that the project is up to all safety and quality standards.

These groups complain that there are no takers yet for the MOX fuel. But when it is economical for utilities to use the fuel, agencies will buy it. It is a business decision. Getting paid for any of the cost of production of the MOX fuel is a bargain, as no other plutonium disposition option has any recovery-of-cost option.

THEY COMPLAIN that cost estimates for the completed project have changed. Of course, the final costs of the project will be different than projected in 2007 – prices change. The actions of these groups to obstruct progress on nuclear projects – whether it is MOX, new nuclear power plants or nuclear materials management programs – also contribute to the costs of these projects. Time is money and unnecessary delay increases costs, which you, the taxpayers, pay.

SRS is the place to deal with the nation’s energy issues, and the MOX project fits right in with all the other critical programs at SRS. The project has been conducted safely and at a high level of excellence that we have grown to expect from the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, and their contractors.

While we all want SRS programs to be conducted with the same respect for the environment to which we have grown accustomed, it is time to say “no” to these so-called “environmental” groups.

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.)

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mooseye 03/25/12 - 10:55 am
I firmly believe that the

I firmly believe that the environmental groups of this country have contributed much to our downfall across the board.
Take for instance the increased cost of complying with the rules they have pushed for. This cost has driven the USA out of the world market for many goods. These goods are now made in other countries, you all know where, which have no or very lax rules regarding air quality and environmental protection. This means that they are producing more pollution from the manufacture of the same goods once made in the USA than we did when we made them.
Not only do we loose the jobs to "third world" countries that care less about polluting, but we also get to buy those goods back from them. This makes us triple fools in my opinion.
We stopped the polluting here or lessened it.
We moved the pollution to another country which does not care about the environment.
We buy the pollution causing junk from them.
We are still the cause of the pollution.
I don't get it????

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 03/25/12 - 04:00 pm
Mr. Wolfe obviously hasn't

Mr. Wolfe obviously hasn't looked at the current DOE budget request. That's embarrassing enough for him but the worst part is how tax payers are being slammed by this project. DOE estimates the annual operating costs of the MOX plant, if it can get a license and actually starts, at $499 million per year. This has shot up from $356 million last years and $156 million the year before. DOE says the plant will operate 20 years, so Mr. Wolfe can likely do the math (20 years x $499 million/year) and get $10 billion. But this doesn't include the amount yet to be spent on construction for other aspects of plutonium disposition or D&D. So, the remaining transfer of our wealth to special interests building this project appear to be on the order of $15 billion or more. For a project that has evolved from a non-proliferation program to an inefficient jobs program - for those that have created the myth that this is an energy program, how much LEU fuel cold be stockpiled for that amount? Meanwhile, the Russia are building a plutonium "breeder" reactor that could make more weapons-grade plutonium and they have abandoned MOX in LWRs. Decision makers in Washington know that Lindsey is protecting this program and that he's the main reason it stumbles forward, not national security.

JimHopf 03/25/12 - 04:08 pm
These "environmental" groups

These "environmental" groups are total hypocrites when it comes to the plutonium issue. One of the main reasons they always give for opposing nuclear power is that they believe buried plutonium represents an unacceptable long-term risk. And yet, when we have a large pile of plutonium that we need to get rid of, they insist that we bury it in the ground, instead of consuming (eliminating) the plutonium in a reactor (and generating a huge amount of emissions-free electricity in the process).

dwb619 03/25/12 - 06:54 pm
I don't believe the plutonium

I don't believe the plutonium is "eliminated' when used for reactor fuel.

EdistoRetiree 03/26/12 - 04:29 pm
Where do environmentalists

Where do environmentalists want this waste to go? Nuclear energy is the cheapest, cleanest way to create energy but it does create waste. (Sorry wind and solar cannot produce enough energy. Do YOU want a windmill or two in YOUR backyard?) This country has spent billions and billions on building Yucca Mountain, which the environmentalists and Senator Harry Reid have kept from opening, but no one wants to assume responsibility for this waste. MOX is the way to go since other options have been closed.

SCEagle Eye
SCEagle Eye 03/26/12 - 09:30 pm
The MOX project has nothing

The MOX project has nothing to do with nuclear power, it's about spending our money to accomplish a noble goal - disposing of plutonium. Managing plutonium as waste is the cheapest and quickest way to get rid of it. But MOX does have to do with nuclear power - it makes a reactor harder to control, causes more damage to reactor components and MOX fuel is much hotter than uranium and harder to store or dispose of. But the French government-owned company AREVA, those money-grabbing socialists, is getting rich and loves MOX!

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/27/12 - 07:46 am
ACEagle Eye posted: But . . .

ACEagle Eye posted:

But . . . MOX fuel is much hotter than uranium. . . .

Please explain what you mean by hotter. The operating temperature of the reactor is controlled by heat exchangers; thus the operating temperature of the fuel is the same whether MOX or UOX. But you may be talking about something different. Please explain.

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