Sen. Lindsey Graham's position on the MOX project is no secret, but this week he seems to be making statements on every stage available.
Statements including that he can work to get the project cost lowered significantly at the same time that it was revealed that Shaw AREVA MOX Services, the contractor, is estimating the project will cost “nearly $8 billion,” when most recent totals were around $7.7 billion.
“We are entertaining a baseline change from the contractor of nearly $8 billion,” NNSA Acting Administrator Neile L. Miller said Wednesday to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water.
“Oh my goodness,” subcommittee Chairperson Sen. Dianne Feinstein gasped.
“Really?” Graham asked. “Well, we can pretty-well assure you that we can get this thing down to $6 (billion), $6.2, I think.”
Speaking on this subcommittee and the Armed Services committee, Graham refused to consider any review of plutonium disposition that was not the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility. He also said he would not have helped defer the start of $100 million-a-year fines South Carolina was to begin being owed from the federal government “if we'd been debating if MOX was the way to go.”
Add to this that the senior senator continues to hold up the Senate voting on Energy Secretary nominee Dr. Ernest Moniz as a protest of cuts to MOX in the president's fiscal year 2014 budget.
The MOX project is a facility being built at the Savannah River Site that is planned to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into fuel arrays for use in commercial reactors. It has been long-criticized and now had funding cut due to significant cost increases.
On Tuesday, Graham questioned Anne Harrington, deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation for the National Nuclear Security Administration, who said the assessment period was not taking MOX off the table.
“It's not on the table, it is the pathway forward,” Graham responded.
“We have studied this thing to death,” Graham said. “It is now time to be getting on and getting it built.”
The president's budget plainly states that the expense of the MOX project was a major reason to suspend funding and study possible alternatives.
“I am willing to sit down with the Department of Energy and the contractor, to try and get the cost down,” Graham said Tuesday. “We in South Carolina and Georgia have tried to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money. ... We will work with the administration to get the cost down, but I will not entertain for one minute a disposition plan other than MOX.”
Graham laid out plainly his delaying tactics for the expected new energy secretary at the Energy and Water subcommittee, also, even referring to the nominee as “Secretary Muniz.” Graham stated that the hold was a statement about the cuts to MOX and the reassessment of the disposition path.
“I've had a hold on Secretary Muniz, he's a fine man, he will be a great secretary. But, this is an unacceptable alternative to stop this plan,” Graham said.
Clarifications on Graham's plans to lower the cost of the MOX project and other suggestions he made to the subcommittee were requested from Graham's office, but the information was not provided Wednesday.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct estimated totals of the MOX project. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.