Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 12, 2020

MOX Madness: A Year Late and a Few Billion Short, DOE Releases Utterly Misleading 2012 Plutonium Fuel “Report” - MOX Program Begs to be Cut

By Thomas Clements | Mar 08, 2013
Photo by: Tom Clements Special DOE trucks carrying experimental MOX fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium roll out of the Charleston (SC) Naval Weapons Stations in 2005.  The trucks - guess which ones - carry four MOX fuel assemblies which were fabricated in facilities in France, from plutonium from Los Alamos National Lab. Citizens tracked the convoy, which stuck out like a sore thumb, towards the Catawba nuclear reactors in South Carolina, where a test of the experimental fuel was aborted after two irradiation cycles. The convoy was diverted for several days to the Savannah River Site given security problems with storage of the material at the Catawba site.  Experimental MOX made from weapons-grade plutonium is regarded by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as a "new fuel form" as it has never before been used commercially anywhere in the world..  The 140 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium oxide from LANL was closely monitored by public interest groups as it was shipped across France. The lightly guarded convoy made a mockery of security and revealed that France poses a large risk for seizure of weapons-usable plutonium. France still regularly and unnecessarily places reactor-grade plutonium in transit across France on public highways, from the AREVA reprocessing plant in La Hague to the MELOX MOX fabrication plant in southern France - all a costly shell game designed to fleece the French public while plutonium proliferators profit.

2012 MOX "Report" is Insulting to Congress and the Public Alike; More of the Same Expected for 2013 as the Project is Smothered by Cost Overruns


Sequester This: Mired in Mismanagement and Out-of-Control Costs, MOX Ripe for Cuts


See February 26 posting:

Environmental Document for Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Project at SRS Delayed Again

 

UPDATE of March 16:  Chaos inside the MOX program prevails.  Things are not going well for the MOX program as it faces huge cuts and elimination, due to massive cost overruns and gross mismanagement.  Effort to try and find enough funds to keep the program going are doomed as financial resources are simply no longer available to fund an $18-billion program that has come to expect that it is entitled to an ever-larger blank check and no oversight.

While Senator MOX is desperate in his attempts to pull more MOX funding out of a tattered budget hat, all signs are that the MOX program is doing to be eliminated in steps.  One impact is that the schedule for issuance of the MOX Supplemental EIS has been blown and it can't be expected until after the budget crisis is clearer, if at all.  If the program is winded down, there will be no reason to issue a Final SEIS or the subsequent Record of Decision (ROD), especially given that there are no customers to use the experimental MOX fuel.Keep your eyes open for what happen in the DOE's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, possibly being sent to Congress on April 8.

The current situation with the MOX program should be instructive to any utility that might dare to consider MOX use:  DOE is a totally unreliable partner with whom you will do business at your own peril.  (Duke Energy already learned this hard lesson which led it to wisely withdraw from the MOX program in 2008, after the aborted testing of experimental weapons-grade MOX fuel.  Despite misleading claims by AREVA and her minions, such experimental weapons-grade MOX has never been used commercially anywhere in the world.)

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Columbia, South Carolina --- In a move which only heightens suspicion about the problem-plagued plutonium fuel (MOX) program and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) lack of openness about it, DOE has today (March 8, 2013) released a totally inadequate and long-delayed 2012 “report” on the $7-billion plutonium fuel (MOX) plant that is under construction at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.

The pitiful 3-page "report," entitled MOX FUEL FABRICATION FACILITY CONSTRICTION AND OPERATIONS, was required to be delivered by law to Congress by February 15, 2012, but was sent to Congress on May 9, 2012, almost three months beyond the legally mandated date.

The "report," which appears to have been quickly put together by a disengaged Office of Fissile Material Disposition and which was signed off on by Secretary of Energy Chu, contains no new information but language in it confirms that the project has been poorly managed from a cost perspective.

The document was released after an appeal of a February 21, 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in which DOE initially claimed it could not find the document.  In a February 5, 2013 response to the initial FOIA request, almost a full year after the document was requested, DOE stated that “your request was forwarded to the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (NA-20). NA-20 searched but did not find any records responsive to your request.”

At last, in response to the FOIA appeal,  the document was provided on March 8, 2013.

It is believed that this year’s report due on February 15, 2013 will be delivered late and, indicative of the way the project has been mismanaged by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)  and Shaw AREVA MOX Services, be totally inadequate.

As a matter of course, DOE ignores FOIA requests on the MOX program, in violation of DOE regulations, and administrative directives.  It is standing joke that FOIA requests to NNSA are sent to the NNSA’s FOIA processing graveyard in Albuquerque, New Mexico to languish while they are ignored by the pertinent program offices.  This is fitting with the DOE’s Office of Fissile Material Disposition chronic strategy to suppress openness, to avoid efforts to build public confidence and to eschew establishing any credibility.

Though the MOX project is complex and running far over budget, aspects that demand in-depth explanations,  the report is so cursory and uninformative as to be a slap in the face of sound project management.

While totally avoiding discussion of any specific cost information - the policy NNSA has adopted at all times when communicating about the MOX program - the report confirms what was already known about problems facing the program:

…there continue to be significant cost challenges in key areas, including identifying suppliers and subcontractors with the ability and experience to fabricate and install equipment to the requirements of Nuclear Quality Assurance (NQA)1 standard for nuclear work, which has resulted in a lack of competition for work and higher than expected bids.

The project is also encountering significantly greater than expected turnover of experienced personnel due to the expansion of the U.S. commercial nuclear industry. This year, the Department will formally evaluate the possible impacts that these cost challenges have on the schedule for construction and operations of the MOX facility, and will consider changing the performance baseline if necessary.

Amazingly, the report states that DOE has not updated a cost estimate for the MOX plant since 2008 even though it was clear that costs were soaring:

In 2008, the Department approved a revised, independently validated, project cost and schedule baseline for construction and start-up of the MOX facility. The revised baseline was prepared in accordance with DOE Order 413.3A and included certain adjustments and a slightly revised schedule to reflect Congressional appropriations.

While it is known that DOE has been working on a new "rebaselined" cost estimate for the last two years, it refuses to release that figure.  Sounds project management dictates that cost estimates be prepared much more frequently than every five years.  This failure, or inability, to develop a new cost estimate for the MOX pant affirms that the he Government Accountability (GAO) is correct in its criticism of how DOE mismanages large, complex construction projects.

The NNSA’s policy to cover-up escalating costs for the MOX plant is becoming tattered as the costs are becoming known.  Importantly, GAO released information on February 14, 2013 that the MOX plant cost had soared $2 billion, to $6.8 billion: “In addition, 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.” (page 219)

When the project cost was “validated” in 2008 the cost was $4.8 billion.  As the MOX plant cost was rising from the $1.8 billion estimate in 2004, it was then clear that a new cost estimate was needed at least every year.  But mismanagement and misspending of public funds have prevailed and contractors like AREVA have profited from massive and uncontrolled cost overruns.

Concerning the required MOX fuel production schedule, in order to meet the legal obligations to remove specific amounts of plutonium from South Carolina by certain dates, the MOX report states that:

The Department's options for the start-up of the MOX facility would allow the Department to meet the "MOX production objective" within 12 months of the date indicated in the December 2006 Report to Congress (March 2017), assuming appropriation of the President's budget requests without significant reduction, limitation or restriction.

This language is inaccurate and NNSA knew it at the time.  DOE itself affirmed that the statement above was not true when it stated in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget request (volume 1, page 435) of February 2012 that it could not meet the requirements of the section 4306 of the Atomic Energy Defense Act, 50 U.S.C. 2566:

Based on this statute, the Department could incur additional expenditure of resources in order to comply with requirements triggered by the obsolete notional dates under the current law. The current statute provides that if the MOX production objective (production of not less than 1 MT of MOX fuel per year) is not met by January 1, 2012, the Department must remove from the State of South Carolina not less than 1 MT of defense plutonium by January 1, 2014. Such a requirement is not possible to satisfy. This requirement is not dependent upon any report, corrective action, or similar trigger ‐‐ it is strictly implemented upon the trigger date of January 1, 2012. Therefore, the Department will submit a legislative change proposal to amend the law.

The proposed legislation would result in the revision of the 2012 target date for the MOX production objective to December 31, 2018, throughout section 4306 and revision of the other dates in section 4306 accordingly, assuming the appropriation of necessary funding. The revised date is consistent with the current plan for the hot start‐up of the MFFF, which includes the fabrication of the first eight MOX fuel assemblies.

But, as is always the case with the MOX program, DOE - likely with the help of Senator MOX (Lindsey Graham) - did indeed create a short-term fix for the problems it faces with removing plutonium from South Carolina by certain dates.  As it indicated in the budget request, DOE simply wiggled out of its schedule-delay problem and got the dates for plutonium removal pushed out two more years in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (passed in December 2012):

SEC. 3116. TWO-YEAR EXTENSION OF SCHEDULE FOR DISPOSITION

OF WEAPONS-USABLE PLUTONIUM AT SAVANNAH RIVER

SITE, AIKEN, SOUTH CAROLINA.

Section 4306 of the Atomic Energy Defense Act (50 U.S.C.

2566) is amended—

(1) in subsection (a)(3)—

(A) in subparagraph (C), by striking ‘‘2012’’ and

inserting ‘‘2014’’; and

(B) in subparagraph (D), by striking ‘‘2017’’ and

inserting ‘‘2019’’;

(2) in subsection (b)—

(A) in paragraph (1), by striking ‘‘by January 1, 2012’’;

and

(B) in paragraph (5), by striking ‘‘2012’’ and inserting

‘‘2014’’;

(3) in subsection (c)—

(A) in the matter preceding paragraph (1), by striking

‘‘2012’’ and inserting ‘‘2014’’;

(B) in paragraph (1), by striking ‘‘2014’’ and inserting

‘‘2016’’; and

(C) in paragraph (2), by striking ‘‘2020’’ each place

it appears and inserting ‘‘2022’’;

(4) in subsection (d)—

(A) in paragraph (1)—

(i) by striking ‘‘2014’’ and inserting ‘‘2016’’; and

(ii) by striking ‘‘2019’’ and inserting ‘‘2021’’; and

(B) in paragraph (2)(A), by striking ‘‘2020’’ each place

it appears and inserting ‘‘2022’’; and

(5) in subsection (e), by striking ‘‘2023’’ and inserting

‘‘2025’’.

Lindsey Graham, though claiming to represent the interests of South Carolina, will make sure that DOE is never fined for stockpiling plutonium at SRS with no exit path. 13 metric tons now sit in storage in the old K-Reactor with no disposal pathway.

Likewise, Graham will likely aim to make SRS a consolidated storage site for commercial spent fuel, which would benefit a few special interests and leave SRS holding the nuclear waste bag.  But public opposition to the scheme is growing in Aiken and state-wide and “consent” won’t be given to the idea. The Don't Waste Aiken group recently held a standing-room-only meeting for citizens to express their concern and awareness is growing. (See article on February 28 about report released about nuclear waste at SRS:  Report: SRS radiation could skyrocket if door opened to commercial waste.)

 

Likewise, Graham will likely aim to make SRS a consolidated storage site for commercial spent fuel, which would benefit a few special interests and leave SRS holding the nuclear waste bag.  But public opposition to the scheme is growing in Aiken and state-wide and “consent” won’t be given to the idea. The Don't Waste Aiken group recently held a standing-room-only meeting for citizens to express their concern and awareness is growing. (See article on February 28 about report released about nuclear waste at SRS: Report: SRS radiation could skyrocket if door opened to commercial waste.)

And so it goes with a MOX program that sinks deeper into its own budget crisis that DOE is incapable of dealing with.

A suspension under the sequester and a 75% cut in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request may just be what is needed from a fiscal standpoint.  Likewise, holding program managers accountable for cost overruns and schedule delays must be part of the funding restrictions for FY2014.  (But does DOE have any ability or desire to hold anyone accountable?)

At the same time, DOE needs to get busy with a plutonium disposition alternatives study - "PLAN B" - something that it has deftly avoided for the last decade as it focused on maximizing the costs for the MOX program.

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To comment on the mismanagement of the DOE/NNSA/AREVA plutonium fuel (MOX) program and associated cost overruns, you can email Tom Clements at tomclementssc at gmail dot com.

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