Officials have confirmed that the proposed cold stand-by for the MOX facility under construction at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site is already underway.
Placing the facility in cold stand-by basically means the National Nuclear Security Administration will not move forward with work on the Mixed Oxide Fuel, or MOX, site while officials examine other options.
The National Nuclear Security Administration submitted its 2015 fiscal year budget proposal to Congress on Saturday. The proposal said the MOX facility will be put in a cold stand-by this month.
Keri Fulton from NNSA public affairs confirmed that the group is working now with contractors to develop a plan.
In the proposal, NNSA referenced the cost overruns as justification for the cold stand-by.
“Due to the magnitude of the changes in the FY 2015 and out year funding profile, a detailed cold stand-by plan for the MFFF (MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility) project will be developed, approved, and implemented in accordance with the DOE Project Management and Contract processes,” NNSA wrote in the proposal.
It added, “ ... it was determined that the MOX fuel approach is significantly more expensive than anticipated, even with consideration of potential contract restructuring and other improvements that have been made to the MOX project.”
The Aiken Standard also attempted to contact Shaw AREVA MOX Services – the contractor hired to construct the facility – but did not receive a response before press time.
NNSA is following President Barack Obama's budget proposal that calls for freezing project funding. Both Obama and NNSA have cited the cost overruns of the MOX project; NNSA mentioned DOE's recent study that concluded the life-cycle cost could rise up to $30 billion.
According to the proposal, the project has undergone a major slowdown in recent months. MOX workforce and construction dropped significantly between April and December.
“At the beginning of April 2013, there were 2,271 contracting partner personnel on board, and by the end of December 2013 this number has been reduced to 1,523,” NNSA wrote in the report. “Construction was slowed to one 10-hour shift, four days a week, focusing on critical path activities. Existing contracts were slowed where possible and the only new procurements awarded were those necessary to support the project slowdown.”
The MOX facility is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. Its work is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
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.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct the full name of MOX, or Mixed Oxide Fuel. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.