House bill would increase MOX funds, unclear on waste treatment

  • Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 2:44 p.m.
SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility
SUBMITTED PHOTO The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility

A U.S. House appropriations committee has appropriated more money for the Savannah River Site’s MOX program, but by the same token, would appropriate less money for waste treatment and tank closures at SRS.

The recently released Energy and Water Development appropriations bill appropriates $1.104 billion to SRS. The total is $29 million below fiscal year 2014 and $45 million below the 2015 fiscal year budget request.

While the language is unclear, it appears that waste tank treatment may take a hit because the Department of Energy has not updated a funding scope for the Salt Waste Processing Facility – an SRS facility that correlates with waste treatment.

“The recommendation does not provide the amount requested for radioactive liquid tank waste stabilization and disposition because the Department has not updated the performance baseline for the full scope of the Salt Waste Processing Facility project and cannot justify its timeline for conducting supporting startup and commissioning work,” appropriators wrote.

While waste treatment continues to be a major issue for the Site, the committee is looking to appropriate $345 million for the Savannah River Site’s MOX program – $1.5 million above fiscal year 2014 and $149 million above the 2015 budget request.

The bill includes language that funding is not to be used to place the MOX program in a cold stand-by.

It notes the various alternatives the Department of Energy mentioned in its life cycle cost analysis; however, appropriators wrote they are concerned that DOE did not accurately represent the comparative life cycle costs of the alternatives.

“The NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) has little capability to accurately estimate programmatic and project costs, and did not seek outside assistance to independently verify its life cycle cost estimates,” they wrote.

The committee also directed NNSA to prepare an independent life cycle cost estimate for both the MOX construction option and the downblending option – a plutonium disposition path that would blend the material into a solution which would then be packaged into approved canisters and shipped to a repository for permanent disposal. The report, they wrote, should discuss the relative costs, benefits and feasibility of the two options.

The committee bill will have to pass Congress and the president’s desk before funding is approved.

The Savannah River Site’s liquid waste program and MOX program have both been heated issues as of late. S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton wrote a letter on Monday to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz threatening to fine the Energy Department more than $193 million if waste treatment milestones aren’t met.

In addition, state and congressional advocates of the MOX program have been fighting to continue construction, while the federal government is looking to place the program in a cold stand-by.

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June 2013.

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