Gov. Nikki Haley tours MOX facility at SRS
Gov. Nikki Haley's visit to the Savannah River Site's MOX facility reaffirmed her belief that the state of South Carolina is getting a raw deal in the federal government's push to freeze funding for construction of the facility.
Haley visited the Site on Monday with members of the Aiken Legislative Delegation. The tour included a look at the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX program, which is more than 60 percent complete.
Haley said she is impressed with what she saw.
“It is mostly finished on the outside; I think it's the inside that has to be done, but just to see it … you see all the work that's been done and how much has been accomplished,” Haley told reporters after her tour. “You've (the federal government) made a very real investment, and now you want to walk away from it? It really defies all logic.”
Haley and the state of South Carolina filed suit against the Department of Energy on March 18, after President Barack Obama's budget proposal recommended placing the facility in a cold stand-by.
The stand-by decision is fueled by the cost overruns attached to the facility; however, there have been disputes as to the actual life cycle cost.
The Department of Energy's recent study priced the cost at $30 billion while AREVA – a partner to the MOX contractor – said the cost is closer to $17 billion.
Haley and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson have been advocating to keep funding flowing for construction of the facility using the premise that current funding has been designated for construction and not for pausing the project.
Questions on how the lawsuit is being handled are better left for Wilson, Haley said.
The Aiken Standard spoke with Wilson's office last week, and the only information available at the time was a confirmation that the state is seeking a quick decision in the lawsuit.
“South Carolina is seeking a quick resolution to a straightforward, simple legal question – is a federal agency allowed to exceed its authority by disregarding a Congressional mandate and directive and sidestepping federal appropriations law?” Wilson's communications director Mark Powell reported last week.
If the federal government does indeed opt to discontinue the MOX project, Haley said the next step will be making sure it removes the current tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the Site.
“We can't keep it,” she said. “What was supposed to be an opportunity in energy has turned into a situation where if they're not going to finish the facility, they need to go ahead and take it.”
In addition to the MOX issues, Haley's visit included a scope of other opportunities at the Savannah River Site, including the Savannah River National Laboratory, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary as a national lab this week.
“When you look at this national lab and you look at the abilities it has, it reminds me that you have to make the most of your research when you have research opportunities,” Haley said. “When you have a stellar facility like this, jobs will come, and that's what I've learned today.”
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.