Members of a federal House committee referred to the Savannah River Site's MOX program as a “dead project” before voting to cut $120 million from the program's proposed budget.
On Wednesday night, the House Armed Forces Committee voted on an amendment to redirect the $120 million intended for MOX in fiscal year 2015 to operations with the United States Air Force. The amount was authorized on May 5 and would have added to the $196 million already proposed to place the program in a cold stand-by.
During a lengthy discussion, U.S. Reps. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., challenged the positions of U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., on the issue.
“This is a dead project, and it's not enough for us to give it $200 million; we're not going to give it another $120 million because we love Joe Wilson and Jim Clyburn,” Cooper said. “That cannot be done in this budget environment, as much as we love them.”
Wilson agreed that there are cost overruns to address, but said he believes the project can still be a success. He added that the MOX study released last week by the National Nuclear Security Administration shows that several MOX alternatives will be more expensive.
“It's worked in France, and we can make it work in the United States,” he said. “There have been cost overruns, but at the same time, the different alternatives that have been proposed are going to cost more.”
U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the committee chair, was one of 29 members who voted against redirecting the money. He said it's important to have a stable plan for the future.
“Unless we have some type of viable alternative that's already approved and already been through the process, we better be very careful about shutting down something that apparently is needed,” he added.
The committee is currently marking up the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 and will continue discussing MOX and other defense issues before passing their proposals on to appropriations committees later this year.
The MOX project is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
The federal government is looking to place the program in a cold stand-by to explore cheaper options for plutonium disposal. The push is based on cost overruns reported in a DOE study that prices the program at $30 billion, while the partner of the MOX contractor said the cost is closer to $17 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.