Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission heard an update during a meeting in Aiken Tuesday on the progress of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility being constructed at the Savannah River Site.


The project is on schedule to be operational in 2016 following NRC approval, said Kelly Trice, Shaw AREVA MOX Services president and chief operating officer.


The $4.8 billion MOX facility is intended to turn 34 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium into reactor fuel for use in commercial power plants.


Trice said the facility, which recently completed construction on its technical support building, will continue to make progress through the end of the year, with completion of part of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility’s roofing and installation of its main transformers complete by the end of the year.


The plan is also to complete its diesel generator for manufacturing by the first quarter of 2013.


When asked by the NRC to discuss challenges and lessons learned through the construction process, Trice and other upper level MOX representatives said that vendor oversight was among the biggest challenges.


However, Trice said, the project uses venders from all but a few states in the nation, and while on-site employees number 2,700, he believes the project is responsible for 4,500 jobs nationwide.


“We’ve actually been very proud of our job impact on the United States,” Trice said.


He added that being one of the first licensed new construction building jobs in the industry in 30 years, the MOX project is a “front runner,” and construction employees working in the nuclear industry need to be taught about the nuclear culture.


“On a nuclear site, it has to be done perfectly each time,” Trice said. “That’s a nuclear culture that we’re having to teach people as we build.”


Among the particular challenges that had to be addressed was an issue with substandard piping, but the issue was caught before the piping was installed, officials said Tuesday.


Several people took the opportunity to ask questions of the NRC on a variety of technical topics.


Though a question about the most recent cost estimate for the facility was asked, NRC officials said they are not the appropriate group to ask about the project’s total cost, directing the inquiries to the Department of Energy.


The latest quarterly review of the MOX facility, which covers the period between April 1 and June 30, found no violations.


Previous reviews have found violations that were level IV, the lowest severity level that the NRC assigns.


Tuesday’s meeting was planned to update the community, as well as new members of the NRC, on the MOX project’s progress.


Typically, annual meetings are held in December, but the meeting to discuss the progress of 2012 is to be held in early 2013.