U.S. Russian MOX Nuclear Fuel Project to Continue Sen. Lindsey Graham Defends Project

Posted: March 31, 2015 in Sanctions on Russia Meaningless, Technology and Energy, U.S. News Other

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Congressmen question validity of MOX study

Derrek Asberry

Mar 31 2015

The first of two independent studies on alternatives to the Savannah River Site’s MOX program is due next month, but U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson says there might be a conflict of interest and a lack of expertise that could affect the results.

The South Carolina Republican joined U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, in submitting a letter to Ernest Moniz, the Department of Energy secretary.

The letter question’s DOE selection of Aerospace Corp. to conduct a congressionally mandated study on alternatives to constructing the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. The facility is a part of a program designed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Cost overruns and missed milestones have delayed MOX, pushing President Barack Obama to propose a freeze last year while officials searched for other options. The proposal was rejected, and MOX received funding for construction. However, Congress did authorize DOE to head up a study for alternatives.

The Department selected Aerospace – a California-based nonprofit corporation that operates a federally funded research and development center, or FFRDC, headquartered in El Segundo.

The study is expected to surface April 15, but Wilson and Brady wrote on March 25 that the company has a background in space missions, rather than the nuclear field.

“We fail to understand why DOE did not choose a FFRDC that has broader expertise in nuclear materials disposition and nuclear construction,” Wilson and Brady wrote. “This selection seems comparable to selecting a nuclear engineering company to review a satellite program at the Department of Defense.”

The two also noted that Aerospace is providing engineering advisory support for the B61 gravity bomb life-extension program – a program intended to extend the lifetime of a nuclear weapon for an additional 20 to 30 years, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Wilson and Brady wrote that funding for the program could see a boost if funds for MOX are redirected.

“We question whether Aerospace can conduct a fair and unbiased study in light of its role in the B61 program,” they wrote.

MOX is part of a long-standing agreement with Russia and is about 65 percent complete. The project employs about 1,600 workers and more than 4,000 vendors in 43 states and eight countries have contributed in some fashion since construction began, Wilson said.

After the first study comes out in April, a second is expected to be released in mid-September.

The Aiken Standard attempted to contact the Department of Energy on the issue, but did not hear back before deadline.

SOURCE: http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20150331/AIK0101/150339974


Graham dismisses search for MOX alternative


FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2013, file photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The first independent report on whether there’s a cheaper, faster alternative to South Carolina’s troubled weapons-grade plutonium recycling project is due in about three weeks, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Wednesday.

The Obama administration began researching other options for disposing of 34 metric tons of plutonium after the mixed-oxide fuel facility at Savannah River went over budget.

Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research and development center, is due to issue its report April 15, Moniz said during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

The report will include a new cost and schedule estimate for MOX and an analysis of one of the alternative disposal methods, which involves diluting the plutonium, energy officials have said.

A second report on other alternatives is due in September.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the subcommittee, dismissed the search for an alternative as futile because changing the disposal method would require a new deal with Russia, which has agreed to destroy its own 34 metric tons.

“We’ve studied this thing to death,” Graham said. “I don’t particularly want to go back and ask the Russians for any favors right now.”

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, would turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear power reactors. But it’s more than three years behind schedule and about $3 billion over budget.

The federal government tried to stall construction of the MOX plant while alternatives were explored, but Congress intervened and forced the Energy Department to continue funding construction, but at a slower pace. The government spent $345 million in fiscal 2015 on MOX, and would do the same in fiscal 2016 under President Barack Obama’s budget proposal.

Graham argued the plant is 60 percent complete and the plutonium — enough to build 17,000 warheads — needs to be destroyed for national security reasons.

“We made a promise to South Carolina and really, the world, to dispose of this material through MOX. There is no viable alternative,” Graham said. “There have been some cost overruns that need to be dealt with, but I don’t see an alternative that is cheaper or practical.”

But nuclear industry watchdogs say MOX isn’t worth saving, and there are better ways to handle the plutonium.

There’s been bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill over huge energy-related construction projects that miss deadlines and exceed their budgets. Graham said he doesn’t think his colleagues are losing patience with MOX just yet.

“Now is not the time to abandon a non-proliferation agreement that makes eminent sense in an increasingly dangerous world, and now is not the time to come up with some new idea that will cost more and won’t work,” Graham said.

SOURCE: http://www.thestate.com/news/business/article16347569.html


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