Published Feb. 9, 2016
Updated at 5:15 p.m., Feb. 9, 2016
President Barack Obama’s last budget to Congress calls for pulling the plug on the controversial MOX project at Savannah River Site, threatening the jobs of 1,800 workers.
Released this morning, the spending proposal for fiscal year 2017 asks Congress to appropriate $270 million to pay for the Department of Energy’s MOX project, well below the $340 million that was in this year’s budget.
The Energy Department plans to switch to a “downblending” alternative rather than convert weapons-grade plutonium and uranium to mixed-oxide fuel (MOX), which could be used for commercial nuclear power, according to reports.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a leading supporter of the MOX program, said Obama’s proposal is “going nowhere” and has little support on Capitol Hill.
“The Obama administration's reckless proposal to terminate the MOX program, without a proven disposition plan in place, is both ill-conceived and dangerous,” Graham said. “This isn’t the first time they have proposed halting the MOX program, but given the fact their time in office is running short, thankfully it is their last.”
Originally estimated to cost $4.9 billion, projections have zoomed to $7.7 billion, according to federal reports. And the price could go higher. The Energy Department estimates that the project could cost $30 billion to finish in 2019, three years past the original completion date.
A number of news organizations have reported that the Energy Department wants some excess plutonium currently stored at SRS to be diluted and shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico.
In 2015, the Obama administration attempted to put the MOX facility in “cold standby.” Congress rejected that plan, insisted that construction continue, and provided additional funding for it.
South Carolina also jumped into the fray, suing the federal government to keep the project going. The lawsuit was dropped after the Energy Department backed off its plans.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has long called for canceling the program, saying it would make it easier for terrorists to gain access to fissile material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
“It is high time that the Obama administration abandon the MOX program and move on to more sensible alternatives,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the UCS Global Security Program. “There are options that will cost far less, be completed more quickly, and not create the unnecessary security risks inherent in the MOX-based approach.”