A recent study by the Department of Energy has concluded that the MOX project currently under construction at the Savannah River Site may cost up to $30 billion over its life cycle. The news prompted South Carolina's senators to meet with the Department of Energy Secretary last week.
U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R–S.C. and Tim Scott, R–S.C. and several other interested parties sat with DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz for about an hour on Wednesday in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
In a phone interview on Friday, Graham told the Standard that the group is trying to figure out ways to bring the costs down.
“We have to find productive ways to drive that cost down from $30 billion,” Graham said. “The contractor's performance has been excellent, so we need to find a way to share costs and drive that number down.”
The MOX facility is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. Its work is part of a nonproliferation effort between the United States and Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium.
Currently, the facility is about 60 percent complete, but the project has undergone cost overruns and delays. The Government Accountability Office reported in June that the plant is $3 billion over budget, costing an estimated $7.7 billion.
The cost overruns have led interest groups to search for alternative methods to dispose of the plutonium. While Graham is not opposed to alternative methods of disposal, he believes there are none.
“No other course of action is more efficient than going ahead and funding the facility that is already being constructed,” Graham said. “I support DOE in the matter and believe Secretary Moniz is in support of the program as well.”
Graham added that there will be future meetings on how to keep costs of the facility down. The next meeting, he said, will likely come in the next couple of weeks.
Scott also voiced his support of the project and said the meeting proved to be beneficial.
“I remain committed to finding a solution to responsibly funding the project and am very encouraged to see both sides sitting down to work through these issues,” he wrote in an email. “I will continue to stress to DOE the importance of the MOX plant and facilitate discussions to ensure its success.”
The MOX project received $343 million in funding from an appropriations committee this fiscal year – about $23 million more than the federal budget request.
Despite the additional funding, the project would be in more danger of failing if the $30 billion estimate comes to fruition.
Graham added, “If the MOX project fails, it would be a devastating blow to the Savannah River Site, the state of South Carolina and the entire country.”
The Standard reached out to MOX Services – the contractor in charge of constructing the project – for a comment on the matter. The contractor referred the Standard to DOE and the Senate offices involved.
Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect the MOX project will cost up to $30 billion over its life cycle.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June.