Officials confirmed that an order to stop construction at the Savannah River Site’s MOX facility is on the horizon, but has not yet been issued.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questioned Anne Harrington, deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation for the National Nuclear Security Administration, on Tuesday about the Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.
When asked if the order to stop construction had been issued, Harrington said there hasn’t been one yet.
“The order to stop construction has not yet been given, but we expect it to be,” Harrington said during the meeting.
Graham grilled Harrington on several other MOX issues, including how the federal government can use funds intended for construction to put the project in a cold stand-by. Harrington replied by referencing the lawsuit that the state of South Carolina filed against the Energy Department last month.
“As you know, the issue of appropriate use of 2014 appropriations is currently an issue of a lawsuit and therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on that matter as it currently is before the court,” she said.
Graham also mentioned the penalties attached to MOX. Specifically, he asked if MOX is put in a cold stand-by, would DOE honor its commitment to process one metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium by 2016.
Harrington answered, “We believe there are options. But, again, that is going to be an element of what we study.”
Graham then referred to DOE’s decisions as “irresponsible” and “reckless.”
“I don’t want to get this thing overly nasty, but I have been dealing with this thing forever. There is no viable option to MOX that would be cheaper and meet the target dates of disposition,” he said.
He added, “I will work with you and others to make this program more cost efficient, and I don’t think that’s (an) unreasonable request. But what you have decided to do is irresponsible financially, and I think it’s reckless in terms of trying to take material off the market that would present a proliferation threat.”
The MOX facility is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel and is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of the material.
Last month, officials announced they would be placing the facility in a cold stand-by, which will freeze construction while officials search for alternative methods.
The decision is based off the cost overruns and delays attached to the project, including a DOE study that said the program will have a $30 billion life-cycle cost.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June.