Congressional budget hearing leads to talk of MOX facility
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that the appropriations committee instructed the government to build the Savannah River Site's MOX facility; not place it in cold stand-by.
Moniz said during Tuesday's Energy and Water congressional budget hearing that the cold stand-by mentioned in the federal budget proposal is meant to allow time to explore other options for plutonium disposition.
Graham responded that the stand-by wasn't part of the agreement.
“My point is that this committee told you to build the MOX program. We didn't tell you to study some other alternative,” Graham said on Wednesday during a budget hearing.
Moniz responded by telling Graham that the cold stand-by – a phase in which MOX construction would be put on hold while officials explores other options to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium – is only part of the budget proposal and not a part of the current budget.
While Moniz claims the stand-by is only part of the proposal, Anne Harrington – deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation for the National Nuclear Security Administration – confirmed last week that NNSA is planning to issue an order to stop construction. Harrington mentioned the order during a congressional hearing last Tuesday.
“The order to stop construction has not yet been given, but we expect it to be,” Harrington said during the meeting.”
The hearing also included discussions on the DOE study that priced the plutonium disposition program at $30 billion.
Graham asked Moniz if there was an analysis showing the $30 billion life cycle cost of the MOX program.
Moniz answered by stating that the study will soon be done with “inner agency comment,” but did not clarify if that signals the study's availability to other parties.
“The report is now undergoing inner agency comment, and we expect to have that completed and responded to by the end of this month,” he said.
Graham went on to reiterate several concerns surrounding the MOX project, including the impact it could have on South Carolinians and negotiations with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
“I want to make sure that we don't break our agreement with the Russians. I want to make sure that the people of South Carolina aren't left holding the bag,” Graham said.
The MOX program has undergone cost overruns and delays over the years. However, groups have varying estimations on the cost of the program.
DOE has reported that the program could have a life cycle cost of $30 billion. However, AREVA – a partner of the facility's contractor – said the life cycle cost is closer to $17 billion.
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June.