President Obama is recommending that the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina be shut down and the government look for another way to dispose of radioactive plutonium from disassembled nuclear bombs.
In the president's budget plan released today, the U.S. Department of Energy proposes to suspend work on building the MOX fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site near Aikin, S.C., following an assessment of the project. DOE has spent about $5 billion to start building the proejct, but a recent energy department study estimates it could cost $30 billion to finish.
"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," the Office of Management and Budget said in the fiscal 2015 budget plan. "NNSA (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."
The Tennessee Valley Authority had agreed to study the use of MOX fuel produced at the Savannah River plant as nuclear fuel at its Sequoyah and Browns Ferry nuclear plants. Despite the cost overruns, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson have continued to push for completion of the MOX fuel plant to dispose of Russian weapons materials and to fuel U.S. nuclear plants with the nuclear material.
But critics of the project praised the administration today for not including more funding for the MOX fuel plant.
"This move by DOE is welcome as the MOX program is unsustainable due to run-away costs and the shut- down of the project must be carried out quickly while DOE immediately initiate options to dispose of plutonium as waste," said Tom Clements, adviser to the South Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club. "This is only a request but if it goes through MOX is dead. We have long called on DOE to abandon the mismanaged MOX project and implement viable disposition alternatives and this request finally gets DOE on the right track."
Clements estimates about $5 billion has been spent so far on the MOX program and that another $22 billion would have to be spent if the project was carried out over the next 20 years.
Clements called upon TVA to formally disengage from the MOX project.