An AREVA spokesperson said the life-cycle cost of the Savannah River Site's MOX facility is closer to $17 billion – not the $30 billion the Department of Energy reported back in February.

David Jones, senior Vice President for AREVA – the company that has partnered with Shaw AREVA MOX Services to build the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication at SRS, spoke at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday morning. One issue he tackled was the life-cycle cost of the facility.

“Approximately $4 billion has been spent to date on this facility. The cost to complete the construction for this facility is estimated at just more than $3 billion. The startup and commission cost are about $1 billion, and the cost to operate the facility over a projected 20-year life are in the order of $8 billion,” Jones said. “I add that up and that tells me that the remaining costs of this project are under $13 billion. This number is consistent with the report that was issued recently by the Government Accountability Office.”

One issue Jones confirmed is that Russia has said it is willing to renegotiate the MOX contract. But the problem, he said, is that Russia's method of using fast reactors for plutonium disposal has the ability to produce more plutonium than it burns.

“It's my understanding that the Russians are willing to amend the agreement, provided they receive certain concessions,” he said. “One of those is that they do not want international monitoring of their program, which is one of the cornerstones of the agreement.”

Another issue Jones addressed is the belief that MOX Services cannot confirm an end user once the weapons-grade plutonium is converted into nuclear fuel.

Jones said there are companies interested in the nuclear fuel, and there has been an agreement on DOE's desk for three years that if signed, would free up MOX Services and those companies to negotiate their own agreements.

“On one hand, our colleagues in the Department of Energy are saying we need customers, and on the other hand, we're pressing back, saying, 'Sign the contract, and we'll bring the customers,'” he said.

In terms of the cold stand-by, Jones said they have not received direction from the DOE to stop construction, even though that move is expected in the near future.

Part of the reason, he said, may be because of the lawsuit filed on March 18 by Gov. Nikki Haley, Attorney General Alan Wilson and the state of South Carolina against DOE following the announcement of President Barack Obama's budget proposal.

“I think the lawsuit from S.C. has given DOE some pause in terms of trying to assess what they want to do long term with the project and to what extent,” Jones said.

The MOX facility is designed to turn 34 metric tons weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. The project has undergone cost overruns and delays over the years including the highly controversial DOE study that prices the life-cycle cost of the project 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. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.