On the eve of the rollout of the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget and a much-rumored cut in funding for the MOX project, a South Carolina senator pushed hard for answers and support from the administration – and it wasn’t Sen. Lindsey Graham.
During the confirmation hearings of Energy Secretary nominee Dr. Ernest Moniz, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., repeatedly asked pointed, and weighted questions looking to gauge Moniz’s position on the mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility. Moniz did not take a position, rather stating, if confirmed, he would investigate this as a “high priority.” Moniz, though, was heavily involved in the process which saw the MOX project selected to be the disposition project for 34 metric tons of U.S. plutonium.
“There are two options. One of them is the MOX facility ... so my question really is, do you think we should continue on the work we have invested $4 billion in, at 60 percent completion in to honor our agreement?” Scott asked.
“I certainly think we need to honor our agreement with Russia in mutual disposition of plutonium,” Moniz said.
The nominee would not back or oppose MOX further, saying he felt it would not be prudent to do so before confirmation.
“The MOX program is important to South Carolina, and to the world as a whole,” Sean Smith, spokesman for Scott said after the hearings. “The fact remains that the United States signed an international agreement to dispose of this material, and we need to uphold our end of the bargain. We hope the president understands that and reflects it in his budget proposal.”
Also questioning Moniz, Scott brought up the agreement signed between the federal government and South Carolina regarding the storage of plutonium.
“Are you aware of the penalties that the federal government would have to pay to the State of South Carolina if the facility is not finished on time?” Scott asked.
Moniz said he was aware of the agreement and that penalties were in place.
“I think it’s 2016, and I think it’s $1 million-a-day,” Scott said.
“That would be substantial,” Moniz responded.
Scott is correct; the U.S. code for “Disposition of weapons-usable plutonium at Savannah River Site” states that if the MOX production objective is not achieved as of Jan. 1, 2016, the federal government must pay an amount equal to $1,000,000 per day, not to exceed $100,000,000 per year.”
This would continue until production objectives are met, or if 1 metric ton of plutonium is removed from South Carolina. And, it would continue through the end of 2021. If the processing of plutonium gets underway, but progress stalls in 2022, the same payments must be made to South Carolina.
“Our concerns remain in regards to this administration’s energy policies. We need comprehensive, all-of-the-above solutions, and the president has not yet presented any,” Smith said. “Mr. Moniz’s answers today showed that the administration still doesn’t have, or is unwilling to share, answers for some very important questions on the energy front. The energy sector can be a huge economic driver for our nation moving forward, but needs to be given the opportunities to unleash that potential.”