The Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization recently questioned the $30 billion life-cycle cost the Department of Energy attached to the MOX facility at the Savannah River Site.

In a letter dated March 21, the group's chair, Susan Winsor, addressed the issue with DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Winsor wrote that the methodology and expense of items DOE used to determine the $30 billion life-cycle cost of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility is of concern because of the lack of information.

“This information has not been publicly provided and is considered questionable and unsubstantiated, along with reported costs for MOX alternatives, until DOE releases this data,” Winsor wrote. “Of equal importance is the timeline comparison of any proposed alternatives versus the MOX timeline for dispositioning Pu (plutonium) currently stored at SRS.”

Winsor addressed several other issues surrounding the MOX facility, including the lack of an end user.

The facility is designed to turn plutonium into nuclear fuel, which would be purchased by an end user after completion. However, the project has not been able to secure an end user since the only buyer, Duke Energy, pulled out of the deal several years ago.

Winsor wrote that several nuclear operators have expressed interest in the MOX fuel but MOX Services – the project contractor – can't act until DOE signs an agreement known as the Master Fuel Contract.

“Bona fide negotiations of this Commercial Agreement between NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) and the MOX contractor were completed more than a year ago, but DOE has provided no reasons why the agreement has not yet been signed to date,” Winsor wrote.

She finished the letter by requesting information on the life-cycle cost analysis, the status of the commercial agreement and two other pieces of information: Written official status that plutonium shipments have been ceased to SRS during the cold stand-by and an understanding of how proposed MOX alternatives meet all of the standards in the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.

She added, “To date, the U.S. and Russia Federation have committed over 90 tons of weapons-grade plutonium to the plutonium disposition program – enough plutonium to make over 20,000 nuclear weapons. MOX provides a pathway out of SRS for plutonium previously brought here for disposition.”

Winsor's letter comes after President Barack Obama's fiscal year budget proposal moved to place the MOX facility in a cold stand-by. The decision was fueled by project cost overruns and delays to the project, including DOE's study that priced the life-cycle cost at $30 billion.

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.