The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration has issued a contract termination notice to the consortium constructing the mixed-oxide fuel (MOF) fabrication facility in South Carolina at the Savannah River Site after years of backpedaling on the project that is now 70 percent complete.
Prior to the formal letter of termination, which was sent on October 23, DOE Secretary Rick Perry informed Congress in May that the project would be pulled. While 70 percent complete, the World Nuclear Association reported that the 2014 federal budget for the MO Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) was $320 million despite the U.S. Congressional Accountability Office estimating the project costs had escalated over the years from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion. As such, work on the project had slowed to a crawl prior to the formal cessation.
The project was born of the 2000 Plutonium Management Disposition Agreement (PMDA) with Russia in which each country agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium.
The original agreement was for each country to re-process the plutonium to create fuel for light water reactors, while the United States was to immobilize a share of its 34 metric ton commitment. Russia, however, later changed their intentions to create fuel for fast breeder reactors, while the United States – this occurring in 2010 – decided to drop the immobilization component of the agreement.
Russia completed its fuel re-processing plant in September 2015. By then, the plant in South Carolina had run into challenges, which delayed the start up date from an estimated 2016 start to 2019.
On the domestic side of the coin, the canceled project has some concerned that South Carolina will be stuck storing dangerous plutonium that was expected to be shipped around the country to light water reactors.
After a meeting with President Donald Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, U.S. Senator Tim Scott said that he informed the president that “keeping weapons grade plutonium in the Palmetto State is a non-starter.”
But the solution, Scott said, was a domestic issue. “The bottom line is, we need to figure out how to make this energy either commercially viable or get it out of our state,” he said.
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Dwight D. Eisenhower informs us in 1961
..."In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."