S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D–Camden, is the latest advocate to voice his disapproval of the proposal to freeze funding for the MOX facility currently under construction at the Savannah River Site.
President Barack Obama's 2015 fiscal year budget proposal included $221 million, which would provide 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.”
In response, Sheheen, who is challenging Gov. Nikki Haley in this year's election, wrote a letter to Obama.
Dated March 12, the letter said the $221 million is far below what is needed to continue construction and operations at the facility.
“This funding freeze would result in devastating economic impacts on the facility, the local community, as well as the United States' long-term goals in disposing of weapons-grade plutonium. I write to strongly urge you to fully fund this program and maintain support for the hardworking South Carolinians at the SRS and throughout Aiken,” he wrote in the letter.
Sheheen also mentioned the workforce statistic of one SRS job equaling 2.5 jobs in Aiken County.
“If enacted, the funding freeze in the proposed FY 2015 budget would force layoffs and hurt hardworking families that have already weathered the economic storm brought about due to the arbitrary cuts required by sequestration and the ongoing dysfunction in Washington, D.C.,” he added.
From a nuclear standpoint, Sheheen mentioned the state's belief that it accepted the nuclear materials as part of an agreement with the government to reprocess those materials into useable nuclear fuel.
Abandoning the project could strand the plutonium at SRS for an indefinite amount of time, he said.
“This latest budget proposal, however, raises serious concerns about how long this material would remain at the SRS and what would become of it,” Sheheen wrote in the letter.
The MOX project is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The project has undergone several cost overruns and, most recently, DOE said the project could have a life-cycle cost of up to $30 billion.
Despite the cost overruns, the South Carolina congressional delegation, Haley and the Aiken state delegation have all had various meetings and spoken out about the issue and are currently looking for ways to preserve the project.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.
Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen was incorrectly referred to as a Republican. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.