President Cuts SRS MOX Project from Proposed Budget

In light of substantial cost overruns, an ongoing project to build a MOX fuel plant at the Savannah River Site has lost the support of the White House in its 2015 federal budget proposal.

SRS MOX plant. Source: Shaw Areva MOX Services"Following a year-long review of the plutonium disposition program, the budget provides funding to place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina into cold standby," read a summary of the proposed 2015 budget released Tuesday. "The National Nuclear Security Administration is evaluating alternative plutonium disposition technologies to MOX that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost effectively."

Last year, the administration proposed a $133 million cut to the project's 2014 budget, which was ultimately granted $343 million from Congress. The proposal to mothball the plant entirely follows an internal Department of Energy study uncovered by the Center for Public Integrity last month that estimated its lifecycle cost at $25 billion to $30 billion, plus the $4 billion spent on construction so far. Total construction costs were estimated at upward of $10 billion, which is ten times more than cost estimates when the project started in the late 1990s.

Shaw Areva MOX Services is building the plant based on Areva's facilities in France. It is designed to create reactor fuel using surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The budget document did not identify which alternative disposition technologies it is considering. Any new method to make the plutonium unusable for weapons would have to meet the terms of Russian weapons reduction agreements with the U.S.

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  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    Would MOX production reduce the numbers of spent fuel rods in storage, plus reduce demand for enriched Uranium? Additionally, hasn,t the nuclear weapons reduction program with Russia ended?

  • Anonymous: Thanks for your questions. As to the first, the plant is intended to dispose of plutonium from surplus weapons by mixing it with uranium oxide to produce MOX fuel. It's worth noting that it's not being built for spent fuel reprocessing, which has been demonstrated at Areva's La Hague plant.

    As to your second question, a program called Megatons to Megawatts that downblended highly enriched uranium from Russia did, in fact, end last year. The MOX plant at SRS was conceived as part of a separate arms-reduction agreement called the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (more details here: dtirp.dtra.mil/.../pmda.aspx). I should note that I'm also correcting the story to reflect the SRS MOX plant would dispose of U.S., not Russian, plutonium, as has been reported elsewhere. The Russians are building their own plant to meet their end of the agreement to reduce plutonium stockpiles.

    Thanks for reading,

    Peter

    Nuclear Street News Team

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    It is about time that the U.S. Government steps up and admits failure for the MOX Projects, but only having spending $4 Billion dollars of our tax dollars.  The MOX Facility even if it is completed has no customers or end users for the MOX’s fuel. This would be a bad business plan for anyone?  If the DOE was following their policies this project would have been stopped a long time ago. There should have been accountable, clear expectations and milestones consistent with DOE Order 413.3B. Detailed design often begins before project definition is competed and construction often begins before detailed engineering is fully progressed. DOE does not ensure that Project Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) are consistent with the baseline of the project and the change process and gaining approval from the Secretariat Acquisition Executive (SAE). In addition, Performance Gaps are not being translated into Functional Requirements. In addition, often an adversarial relationship develops between DOE and its consultants and the contractor on the project (not just limited to MOX).   Obviously, DOE current approach to identifying and integrating technology readiness into acquisition strategies is once more shown to be inadequate.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    I'm very sorry to say it, but this follows a long, sorry history of DOE's ineptitude at accurately projecting project costs and  controlling them thereafter.  This MOX facility is tied to the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, the siting of which was based on a Pollyannic estimate of creating a transportation container to ship weaponizable plutonium pits over the road at a cost of $40M.  The last cost esitmate I heard was over ten times that amount.