Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Shaw AREVA MOX Services – the contractor in charge of constructing the Savannah River Site's MOX facility – made incorrect assumptions that have led to the mismanagement of the program.

During a Congressional budget hearing on Wednesday, Moniz answered questions from U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., and assigned a considerable portion of the blame to the contractor.

Moniz referenced the contractor's intentions to build the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility modeled after the same type of facility in France.

“There were a number of assumptions made by the contractors in terms of how the experience of building a similar plant in France would transfer,” Moniz said during the hearing.

“It turned out there were a lot of incorrect assumptions – both in how the plant would be physically constructed, but also in terms of interactions on safety standards.”

Moniz added that last June, a project team led by one of his senior advisers took a closer look at the work at the facility and was unimpressed.

“(We) found a lot of holes, frankly, and there were some management changes that were needed and implemented,” he said.

During an Aiken Chamber breakfast on Friday, AREVA Vice President David Jones directed some of the mismanagement toward the fact that the DOE proceeded with construction prior to the design being complete.

“It was recognized the project was going to be a design-build because the design was less than 10 percent complete at that time,” Jones said. “The intent at the time was to move expeditiously on the U.S. side to affect similar results on the Russian side.”

While Moniz said he feels that MOX Services deserves much of the blame, he said other parties are at fault for the mismanagement of the program, as well.

“If we want to blame, there's plenty of it to go around. I'm interested in solving problems. I just want to move forward and see what we can do. We are committed to disposing of the 34 tons of plutonium,” he said.

The DOE currently is moving forward with an effort to put the MOX program into a cold stand-by, or period where construction is halted while officials explore less-costly options.

Graves continued the hearing by asking Moniz if DOE has estimated how much it will take to conduct the cold stand-by. Moniz responded that they are estimating that number to fall in the $215 million to $220 million range.

He added the DOE study that priced the life cycle of the plutonium disposition program at $30 billion should spark further conversations in Congress.

“This is a very important dialogue that we need to have with the Congress because, frankly, the issue is, is $30 billion lifetime something that can be supported for the disposal of the 34 tons or not?” he asked.

DOE: MOX contractor made assumptions