Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 26, 2019

GAO Confirms Massive $2 Billion Cost Increase for Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Plant at Savannah River Site – NNSA Outed by GAO

By Thomas Clements | Feb 14, 2013
Photo by: High Flyer In the aerial (and legal) photo above, taken in early February 2013, the MOX plant area at the Savannah River Site can be seen.  The $6.8-billion MOX plant is under construction on the right.  According to NNSA, the roof of the plant will be finished in March 2013 and is thus a good stopping point for the project to be mothballed. Many readers will be aware of the furor in Washington about the mad scramble by one top DOE official and by one big-spending US senator to save MOX due to parochial jobs issues and to continue the transfer billions of dollars of our national wealth to the pockets of the MOX plant design and construction company, Shaw AREVA MOX Services.  As AREVA is a French government-owned company, an unknown part of this money is moved to France when it should have been left at home in the US.

Sacré Bleu!  NNSA Cover-Up of Massive Cost Increase of MOX Plant Blown by GAO – Ooopppsss!

Cost Estimate Leaps 30% in One Step, Signals that the Project is Poorly Managed and being Protected by Big-Government, Big-Spending Politicians such as Senator Lindsey Graham Who are Watching Out for Special Interests and Not the Public interest

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Update of February 21:  Rumors persist that MOX is facing a 75%+ cut in upcoming budget requests. Estimate to finish the roof of the MOX plant, in March, is on the order of $40 million, with additional funds needed to mothball the facility and honor contracts.  An estimate of $100 million could be a ball-park figure but it is clear that the rumored request of $500 million for FY2014 is far too much to suspend the project and secure the unfinished MOX building (that still has no clients for any fuel it might be able to produce).

Update of February 22:  The DOE schedule of release of NEPA documents shows that the release of the MOX Supplemental EIS has slipped again.to mid-April.   No surprise there as the project struggles on all fronts.  See February 15 NEPA schedule at: http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/KeyEISSchedule_February2013.pdf

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In a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on February 14, the rumored $2-billion increase in the U.S. Department of Energy's plutonium fuel (MOX) facility under construction at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina has been confirmed.

Though there have been lingering rumors about the massive cost increase, this is the first time the increase has been publicly confirmed by a federal government agency.

In the GAO report (GAO-13-283, February 2013, http://gao.gov/products/GAO-13-283), entitled “HIGH-RISK SERIES An Update”  - GAO states:

“…GAO is currently conducting work on NNSA’s project to construct its Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site, to which NNSA recently added $2 billion to the project’s cost estimate even as the facility nears completion.

Full GAO report is at:  http://gao.gov/assets/660/652133.pdf

For the past two years, the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has staunchly refused to reveal the “rebaselined” cost for the MOX plant despite repeated requests.

Additionally, the NNSA has refused to release a life-cycle cost estimate for the overall plutonium disposition program, estimated by Tom Clements to be around $18 billion, a figure never challenged throughout 2012 by NNSA.   "NNSA has ceaselessly attempted to hide the cost increase of the MOX plant but now GAO has done the job that NNSA should have done long ago," according to Tom Clements, public interest watchdog over SRS who is based in Columbia, South Carolina.

In 2004, the facility was estimated to cost $1.8 billion. In 2007, the estimate was $4.8 billion, where the cost has been frozen until now.  The $6.8 billion price tag now on the facility represents a single, massive jump in the cost estimate of about 30%.

“Confirmation of a stunning $2-billion cost increase of the MOX plant construction spells even bigger trouble for the project and could be its doom,” said Clements.  “It is becoming much clearer that MOX funding will be cut substantially in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request due to mismanagement which has resulted to massive and uncontrolled cost increases and lengthy schedule delays for the facility.  There has been nothing short of a cover-up by NNSA of the huge cost increase, and it is of great embarrassment that NNSA itself did not step up to the plate to reveal this shocking budget-busting news."

The Project on Government Oversight (POG) reported on February 11 that “Budget for MOX Program Cut By 75 Percent” in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request coming in mid-March.

It has been confirmed that GAO is currently engaged in another investigation aimed specifically at the MOX plant and that interviews for that report are underway.  The State news paper in Columbia, SC reported that GAO investigators visited SRS on January 15-17 in a February article entitled “Critics fear $7 billion SRS boondoggle” as part of an “ongoing assessment.”

Other problems have arisen as NNSA and the contractor Shaw AREVA MOX Services have not been able to secure any contracts with utilities which might want to use the experimental weapons-grade MOX fuel, which has never been used commercially in a nuclear reactor anywhere in the world.  MOX fuel makes a reactor harder to control during operation and the increased heat of spent MOX causes magnified spent fuel management problems.

"NNSA must now immediately begin pursuit of Plan B - safer, cheaper, and quicker plutonium options to dispose of plutonium as waste, something we have been calling for repeatedly over the last decade," said Clements

See early February aerial photo of the MOX plant and area around it posted along with this blog. According to Clements, the roof should be finished to protect the facility from the elements and then the plant should be mothballed. According to an NNSA presentation to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board on January 29, 2013, the roof should be completed in March.

The US-Russia plutonium disposition agreement (not a treaty as NNSA often erroneously says) is no longer being pursued in parallel with Russia as Russia abandoned use in their light-water reactors (VVERs) of MOX and instead has been building a new plutonium "breeder" reactor to use MOX fuel.

The BN800 breeder, which is now under construction and which may face start-up and operational difficulties, poses nuclear proliferation risks as the reactor can produce weapons-grade plutonium when operated to do so.  "It is a blow to international nuclear non-proliferation policies that the US has helped enable Russia to build the BN800 breeder reactor," said Clements.  Likewise, the MOX program presents proliferation risks in the US, especially that the plant has been eyed in at least one secret meeting for production of fast reactor fuel once the LWR mission has concluded.

Over the past weeks, NNSA has ignored repeated inquiries about the MOX plant costs, revealing a huge insecurity about the failed tactic of trying to cover up costs that have been blowing through the roof.

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See this blog for more information:

SRS Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Program to Go Cold Turkey in Lame Duck Session as Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Balks at MOX Use?

http://aikenleader.villagesoup.com/p/srs-plutonium-fuel-mox-program-to-go-cold-turkey-in-lame-duck-session-as-tennessee-valley-authorit/928099?cid=2591110

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