Jeff Duncan, MOX

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., spoke to the Aiken Republican Club on Tuesday afternoon. Duncan's speech touched on a variety of local and federal issues.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan is worried about the U.S. Department of Energy's decision making in relation to the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

Duncan, a South Carolina Republican who at one point represented the Aiken area, said he "just recently" spoke with U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry about MOX for that reason.

"I want MOX to happen, and the press is here," Duncan said Tuesday at the Aiken Republican Club's monthly luncheon. "I'm on record for that."

In May, Perry moved to kill MOX in favor of dilute-and-dispose, a more-or-less competing plutonium disposition method.

MOX, currently being constructed at the Savannah River Site, is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel.

MOX's completion timeline and necessary funding have been questioned for years now. The facility was initially expected to come online in 2016 at a total cost of $4.8 billion.

The DOE claims MOX won't be operable until around 2048, a point reiterated in an appeals court brief filed by the department and its legal team Aug. 24. In March, National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told an appropriations committee MOX is "nowhere close" to 50 percent complete.

The NNSA, a semiautonomous DOE agency, is in charge of the MOX project.

In 2016, MOX contractors estimated completion around 2029, according to a DOE project management and oversight study.

In February, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the Aiken Rotary Club one of MOX's biggest woes is it's outward appearance.

"The big issue is: Is it 70 percent built or 30 percent?" Graham said at the time. "Welcome to the federal government. We're arguing where the damn thing is."

Duncan, on Tuesday, said a lot of energy – he described it as a "full-court press" at one point – is spent sorting through the "smoke and mirrors" MOX opponents have deployed.

"I like to deal with the actual facts," Duncan said.

The congressman said the South Carolina delegation is actively working to find the correct information: the "actual" completion percentage and "the years" required to finish MOX, as he put it.

Duncan's comments on Tuesday are similar to comments made last week by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. Wilson, too, is a MOX proponent.

During a tour stop at Shealy's Bar-B-Que in Batesburg-Leesville, Wilson said he is "concerned" with the DOE's choices.

On the same day Perry submitted his MOX waiver, the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended repurposing MOX infrastructure for plutonium pit production.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin