Editor's note: This story will be followed up in Thursday's edition with the views of interest groups and Congressional leaders.
The MOX project currently under construction at the Savannah River Site could be put on a “cold stand-by” if Congress agrees to President Barack Obama's budget proposal.
Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget proposal would essentially freeze funding for the MOX project, while officials explore less costly options.
“As part of an ongoing analysis of options to dispose of surplus plutonium, the budget provides funding to place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in cold stand-by, while the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) evaluates alternative plutonium disposition options that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost-effectively,” the budget states.
During a live stream news conference, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz added that the Department will seek other options for the plutonium disposition program.
He added, “... We have a task force that has been working on this very hard for the last nine months. They are continuing to work with the contractors to see if we can find some other way of doing this to get a substantial cost reduction on the MOX path, but we are continuing to look at other pathways, as well.”
The NNSA held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. During the conference call, officials said MOX cost overruns are due to the facility being the first of its kind, which caused funding dilemmas.
“We agree with the contractor's areas of cost growth,” officials said. “But the cost has gotten way beyond what we can ask taxpayers to pay. Over the next 12 to 18 months, an analysis will be made to see if the facility is the best option, and we will still be working with the contractor on this issue.”
Areva – a joint partner with MOX contractor Shaw Areva MOX Services – also has a stake in the project and released a statement expressing disapproval of the president's proposal.
“We are disappointed that after multiple direct negotiations with the Department of Energy to firm the construction cost and schedule, and after recently receiving additional construction funds and reprogrammed funds from Congress, the DOE calls for, in essence, a cessation of a previously approved program,” officials wrote in the statement.
The MOX program currently employs about 1,600 workers.
The 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.
The project has undergone cost overruns and delays. The GAO reported in June that the plant is $3 billion over budget, costing an estimated $7.7 billion.
Most recently, DOE revealed the results of a study last month that estimates the project could have a life-cycle cost of $30 billion to complete.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais President Barack Obama pauses as he answers a question regarding the ongoing situation in the Ukraine during his visits to Powell Elementary School in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, Tuesday.×