The price tag of the MOX Project being constructed at Savannah River Site has risen by $2 billion, according to a Government Accountability Office report published Thursday.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, who oversee MOX, recently estimated the nuclear fuel project being constructed near Aiken would cost around $6.8 billion to complete.
The MOX Project being constructed at the Department of Energy-owned site is a non-proliferation project to turn 34 metric tons of plutonium from nuclear warheads into fuel for reactors.
Originally the project was estimated to cost $1.7 billion. In 2007, that was increased to $4.8 billion. It is scheduled to open in 2016 and to begin fuel production in 2018.
“GAO is currently conducting work on NNSA’s project to construct its Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site, to which NNSA recently added $2 billion to the project’s cost estimate even as the facility nears completion,” reads the single sentence regarding MOX in a 275-page report.
Recently, the project has been thought to be the target of austerity cuts that will be forced on NNSA. Being a large project, reports have suggested MOX is an obvious place to take money from.
“NNSA has received a baseline change proposal from MOX Services, the prime contractor and is currently reviewing the estimate,” an NNSA spokesman said Thursday. “We’re glad GAO has removed NNSA from the high-risk list for projects under $750 million and will continue to work to meet cost estimates on all of our major projects.”
The report was a review of operations deemed “high risk,” due to their “greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency or effectiveness challenges.”
The project has received much criticism and many questions for exceeding its budgeted construction cost. But the report issued Thursday is the first time the new total cost of the classified project has been revealed.
Earlier this week, Dr. Clint Wolf, executive director of the Campaign for Nuclear Technology Awareness, said that re-baselining the project was necessary, due to “construction cost skyrocketing.”
“I firmly believe that the MOX Project is one of the most significant projects ... in the country,” Wolf said.
According to the Handy-Whitman Index of Public Utility Construction Costs, nuclear-related construction costs have risen around 30 percent in the last 7 years. Electrical equipment and transformers have risen by approximately 72 percent and 45 percent, respectively, over the same period.
“Even if it was not a nuclear program and didn’t involve plutonium – the price of construction would go up by 30 percent in this time frame,” Wolf said earlier this week.
While some, like Wolf, laud the MOX Project for its potential, several environmental groups see it as a boondoggle for taxpayers and a poor solution for dealing with excess weapons-grade plutonium.
“Confirmation of a stunning $2 billion cost increase of the MOX plant construction spells big trouble for the project,” said Tom Clements, Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator with of Friends of the Earth. “It is becoming much clearer that MOX funding will be cut substantially due to mismanagement which has resulted to massive and uncontrolled cost increases and lengthy schedule delays for the facility. There has been nothing short of a cover-up by NNSA of the huge cost increase, so GAO has done a public good by doing what NNSA adamantly has refused to do.”