South Carolina Stuck Again With MOX Cancellation

[UPDATED] The mixed-oxide fuel fabrication project at the Savannah River site in South Carolina has been officially canceled vis a vis a letter to Congress from Energy Secretary Rick Perry, reports indicate.The reaction from South Carolina has been vehement and swift.

MOX Starkly reminiscent of the two-reactor V.C. Summer nuclear power plant expansion project that was closed down last year with two reactors unfinished, the MOX Fabrication plant will end with the work 70 percent done – with years of labor and many millions of dollars down the drain.

Technically, Perry wrote members of the House and Senate committees that he was to move forward with a in fiscal year 2018 with a waiver that is allowed in the National Defense Authorization Act. This will effectively end the project, as the plant was being build under a 2000 agreement with Russia concerning processing weapons-grade plutonium to allow it to be used in commercial nuclear power plants.

“This letter constitutes my execution of that waiver authority, consistent with section 3121 of the FY 2018 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) and section 309 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018,” Perry wrote dryly.

In much of the letter to Congress, Perry “confirms” that alternatives to the MOX plant for processing weapons-grade plutonium exists. “I confirm that the Department is committed to removing plutonium from South Carolina intended to be disposed of in the MOX facility. We are currently processing plutonium in South Carolina for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and intend to continue to do so,” the letter says.

The letter goes on to say that the Energy Department is planning “to in stall additional equipment for processing plutonium for removal from South Carolina and to increase the rate at which this removal can be carried out.”

Cost was an issue. “The Department's independent cost estimate concluded that the remaining Dilute and Dispose lifecycle cost is $19.9 billion. The Department estimated the remaining lifecycle cost of the MOX fuel program to be $49.4 billion,” Perry said.

Nevertheless, lawmakers from South Carolina – Republicans all – reacted with a strongly worded letter condemning the decision.

“After looking at over 40 options, the MOX process was chosen over other alternatiives and was the method agreed to with the Russians in the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement,” says a response from Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with Congressmen Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, Tom Rice, Ralph Norman and Trey Gowdy.

“DOE says it now wants to pursue “dilute and dispose” but that plan was already considered and rejected. DOE plans to press ahead, even though “dilute and dispose” has not been fully vetted. This could lead to the permanent orphaning of at least 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium, enough for thousands of warheads.”

The letter presses on, noting the DOE has “done nothing to consult with New Mexico,” home of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

“The Department of Energy's reputation for the handling and oversight of large-scale project like MOX were considered suspect. But given what can only be called a debacle, DOE is going to be challenged like never before. We plan to hold DOE accountable for this haphazard decision and will press for oversight to ensure taxpayers aren't left holding the bag for DOE's mistakes.”

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  • Unfortunately, this article is not accurate. Being a member of the project, I have first-hand knowledge of the comings and goings (at my level) and cringe when I see partially correct information being disseminated publicly. The quotes aren't even recited accurately. While your attempt at reporting news is appreciated, the content should be consistent with what is factual. We as a project have been put through the ringer over the years and have certainly made mistakes, but nothing has been malicious and we are regularly demonized for attempting to provide a service/project for the greater good of us all. I would greatly appreciate your continued efforts to provide accurate, factual and unbiased reporting  while ensuring the general public what they are consuming intellectually, maintains the highest level of reporting, holding yourselves truly accountable and a pardigm of professional journalism.

    Thank you,

    James