MOX officials: ‘Recruitment is tough’

Staff photo by Derrek Asberry More than 100 people heard updates on MOX funding and other nuclear projects during a breakfast Tuesday sponsored by Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Officials with a contractor company for the Savannah River Site’s MOX project said it is difficult to recruit and retain a workforce for the project with constant uncertainties looming in the federal budget.

Kelly Trice, senior vice president for nuclear construction within CB&I’s Power business unit, was scheduled to speak on MOX and other nuclear projects during a Tuesday breakfast hosted by Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, or CNTA.

Trice was unable to attend, so the group received updates from Bobby Wilson, senior vice president of CB&I Project Services Group, and Mike Zustra, vice president for environmental health and safety.

The two discussed CB&I’s many projects in the area, including MOX and work at Plant Vogtle and the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. After a slide show, the two talked about difficulties in keeping a workforce considering the tight budget around MOX and threats of shutting down the project.

“Recruitment is tough,” Wilson said. “It’s tough with the uncertainty of the budget, but it’s something we work at every day. We have a lot of good, devoted people in the area who work really hard, and it takes its toll when there’s cause for concern.”

Wilson and Zustra also were asked about the congressionally mandated study on MOX conducted by Aerospace Corp. – a California-based nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center.

The study estimated a $51 billion lifecycle cost for the MOX program.

Aerospace reported that the $51 billion-figure is based on whether MOX was to be funded at $500 million per year, closer to the level the Department of Energy has said it would take to make significant progress. If MOX was funded at $375 million per year – $30 million less than its current funding – Aerospace reported it would cost about $110 billion to complete.

Wilson and Zustra directed questions on the study to the Energy Department. However, Bryan Wilkes, a spokesperson for the group, said in April that the figures in the study don’t match up. Wilkes said it will take an additional $3.3 billion to finish the main MOX building with a projected lifecycle cost for the entire plutonium disposition targeted at under $20 billion.

“The biggest costs are going to be labor costs, and that’s how we can be certain in our estimates,” Wilkes said.

Derrek Asberry is the SRS beat reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the paper since June 2013.