The mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility, currently under construction at the Savannah River Site, is under renewed criticism from Washington, with allegation that the project's cost and environmental impact are far greater than expected.
The latest query comes from Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass), a senior member of the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee, who describes the project as “a disaster.”
“The government's plutonium plan is a pluperfect disaster,” said Rep. Markey. “It is over budget, riddled with delays and problems and is producing a product that no one wants. And all to produce $2 billion worth of reactor fuel at a cost of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars and damage to our global non-proliferation efforts.”
The facility, originally estimated to cost $4.8 billion, is designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The facility will blend the plutonium with uranium to make reactor fuel for power plants. As part of a non-proliferation agreement with the Russian Federation, the process will leave the plutonium in a form unsuitable for weapons.
Markey, a longtime opponent of the facility, spoke on Monday after he wrote a letter to Energy Secretary Stephen Chu criticizing the program, its cost and the fact that the end-product has no buyer. Markey also asked for answers to 26 questions relating to the project to be answered by Feb. 15.
The project “may be both wasting taxpayer dollars and ultimately failing to reduce our stores of surplus weapons-grade plutonium,” Markey wrote.
In his letter, he cited newspaper and industry publication reports that estimate construction costs may be $2 billion over the initial $4.8 billion cost. He also slatted the project for not having any consumers lined up for the facility that is projected to start running in 2016.
“With respect to Representative Markey's concerns regarding finding a buyer for the fuel, utility companies do not announce future business decisions publicly years in advance,” said Caroline Delleney, communication director for Congressman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). “Great progress has been made in locating potential customers, and (Wilson) is supremely confident that there will be multiple buyers for MOX fuel.”
Wilson, a supporter of the project, took issue with his colleagues assessment of MOX fuel and the MFFF.
“Congressman Wilson believes the MOX project at SRS is an essential national security program which is over 50 percent completed,” said Delleney. “This program serves a vital purpose, as it will allow the United States to honor its international nuclear nonproliferation obligations with Russia. Once operational, the facility will begin to disposition 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium, approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.”