Six S.C. congressmen ask to Obama to fully fund MOX project

  • Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:55 a.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 7:14 a.m.

Six South Carolina congressmen all signed their names to a letter Tuesday, urging President Barack Obama to financially back the MOX project at the Savannah River Site.

S.C. Reps. Jeff Duncan, James Clyburn, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Rice and Joe Wilson all signed the letter, which comes after much speculation regarding the future funding of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction at SRS.

“Recently, it has come to our attention that concerns have been raised regarding the MOX Project and its future under potential sequestration and budget cuts,” the letter reads. “We are writing you today to reiterate the importance of the MOX project and its mission.”

Currently under construction, the MOX project is a National Nuclear Safety Administration facility.

Shaw Areva MOX Services have been contracted to process 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium, mix it with uranium oxide to make mixed oxide pellets and turn them into fuel assemblies to power nuclear reactors.

Once irradiated at nuclear power plants, the plutonium would be in a form less usable for nuclear weapons.

A source with knowledge of the NNSA project suggested that suspending MOX funding would make sense to NNSA, as it is a large, capital-intensive project which deals with materials that are currently held securely. Therefore, there would be substantial savings and no extra investment in security.

The Congressmen are not alone in their fight for MOX to be funded.

“Sen. Graham would have serious issues with a decision to suspend MOX,” Kevin D. Bishop, communications director for Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday.

“It is our opinion that a failure to complete the MOX facility will lead to a world with more weapons-grade plutonium than necessary – creating additional and unnecessary risk that such material will be stolen or diverted to malicious purposes,” the Congressmen’s letter reads.

Former NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Will Tobey said last week that, “You can expect the baseline for the project will go up if they do delay it. It has already been controversial, and adding cost to it will only add controversy to it.”

Since its inception, the MOX project has been attacked for its cost – once described as the largest capital project in the United States. Most recently, Congressman Edward Markey, D-Mass., attacked the MOX project as a “disaster.”

Halting MOX construction would also have international consequences. The project emerged as part of a non-proliferation agreement with the Russian Federation in 2000. The United States and Russia agreed to each dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus military-grade plutonium by recycling it as fuel for civil nuclear applications.

“The project turns ‘bombs into energy’ and is the means by which the United States will honor our agreement with Russia by disposing of weapons-grade plutonium,” Wilson said Tuesday. “Due to the impending sequester, the MOX project is on target to experience a budget cut, which threatens the future for the facility. To make matters worse, it has been brought to my attention that the administration is considering not prioritizing this project in its FY2014 budget, which is a direct contradiction of its previous policy.”

The letter ended with a plea for Obama to “take a hard look” at the project which the six congressman believe to be a “vital asset ... to our nation.”

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