Energy Dept. Gives up on Expensive Nuclear Waste Plant

Thursday, March 06, 2014
(photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

Calls for reduced federal spending have forced the Department of Energy (DOE) to axe a multi-billion-dollar project for disposing of plutonium used in nuclear warheads, leaving the federal government with no Plan B for addressing an issue that has both domestic and international implications.


The project involved building a special plant in South Carolina that could transform weapons-grade nuclear material into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel that civilian nuclear reactors could burn for fuel.


But the plant, located at the Savannah River Site, a Cold War-era nuclear fuel factory, had experienced numerous cost overruns. Instead of needing $1 billion to build, the project was going to consume $10 billion. In addition, it was estimated the MOX facility would require another $24 billion just to operate it over a 15-year period.


DOE officials concluded that given its shrinking budget, they could not continue with the plant’s construction, leaving it two-thirds completed.


It now will go into “cold-standby,” meaning the department will provide some funding ($311 million, down from $657 million in 2013) to keep the project operational while officials try to figure out a cheaper alternative for the site and to avoid laying off all of its 2,100 workers.


Those jobs were a big reason why the state’s congressional delegation, led by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, had pushed to keep building the MOX facility.


Shuttering the plant also has arms control implications.


American officials first proposed the MOX idea back in the 1990s as part of negotiations with Russia to reduce both countries’ stockpile of nuclear weapons. The plant was a key part of the U.S. promise to transform 34 tons of plutonium removed from warheads. Now that the facility won’t be able to convert the radioactive material for civilian use, the government will have to explain to Moscow what the alternative will be.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Nuclear Waste: Energy Department Proposes to Kill Multi-Billion Dollar Nuclear Fuel Plant (by Douglas Birch, Center for Public Integrity)

Cleanup of Radioactive Bomb Waste in South Carolina: The Endless Project (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

The Government Project that is $6 Billion Over Budget and 10 Years Late (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


Jimmy Neutron 10 years ago
This couldn't have ANYthing to do with the fact that the MOX-fueled Reactor #3 at Fukushima exploded scattering huge quantities of plutonium-laced fuel for miles, could it? Nah.

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