An audit dated May 22 reported both the National Nuclear Security Administration and the MOX contractor have been “largely unsuccessful” in controlling the costs and construction schedule of the Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

Gregory Friedman, Department of Energy inspector general, wrote the audit and stated that cost overruns and delays are due to the National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, approving cost estimates and a projected baseline for completion before a design was complete.

NNSA recently told Congress that going forward, it will require nuclear facility project designs to be at least 90 percent complete prior to the approval of a baseline.

“While this is commendable, we remain concerned as to whether the estimated cost and completion date for the MOX Facility and the plutonium metal oxidation capability are achievable,” officials responded in the audit.

NNSA concluded that total project costs were underestimated by up to $900 million and directed the contractor to develop a baseline change proposal with updated cost and schedule projections.

“MOX Services estimated that completing the MOX Facility would cost about $7.7 billion and take until November 2019, representing a cost growth of $2.9 billion and a schedule slippage of (more than) three years,” officials wrote.

The audit notes other factors that Friedman believes the contractor and NNSA overlooked which has led to a 33 percent increase in piping installation, a 15 percent increase in electrical cable needed and incorrect assumptions on necessary employment.

“Personnel with nuclear engineering design and manufacturing experience have been in high demand, but in short supply. This in turn led to an employee turnover rate on the project of almost 20 percent in Fiscal Year 2012,” officials wrote.

NNSA is currently working with Shaw AREVA to initiate a cold stand-by at the beginning of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, members of the South Carolina Congressional Delegation are looking to keep funding flowing for MOX, which is designed to dispose of 34-metric-tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Last week, the U.S. House voted to continue favor construction of the project by approving the National Defense Authorization Act. The same day, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voted in favor of the Senate Armed Forces Committee version of the bill which will be voted on by the full Senate later this year.

“We are working in a collaborative way to reduce the life cycle cost of the MOX program,” said Graham. “It is possible to reduce costs, but scrapping the MOX program is a non-starter.”

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.