Half-Built Nuclear Fuel Plant in South Carolina Faces Test on Its Future via The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Time may finally be running out on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a multibillion-dollar, over-budget federal project that has been hard to kill.

The Energy Department has already spent about $4.5 billion on the half-built plant near Aiken, S.C., designed to make commercial reactor fuel out of plutonium from nuclear bombs. New estimates place the ultimate cost of the facility at between $9.4 billion and $21 billion, and the outlay for the overall program, including related costs, could go as high as $30 billion.

Officials warn that the delays in the so-called MOX program are so bad that the plant may not be ready to turn the first warhead into fuel until 2040.


“The administration must complete construction of MOX — the only viable method at this time of disposing of the plutonium,” Mr. Wilson said in a statement.

Two companies involved with the plant’s construction are among Mr. Wilson’s biggest contributors, according to campaign records. Chicago Bridge and Iron, one of the two companies that own the main contractor for the facility, gave $10,000 to Mr. Wilson’s 2014 re-election campaign, and the other owner, Areva Group, donated $8,000, according to campaign records.


The Energy Department would like to move that nuclear waste to a facility near Carlsbad, N.M., where it would be stored deep underground in salt formations. The administration says it can get rid of the weapons material under the alternative approach for about $300 million to $400 million a year, compared with $800 million to $1 billion a year under MOX.

“There have been several independent analyses that have concluded that the MOX fuel approach for plutonium disposition will be significantly more expensive and take longer than anticipated,” said John J. MacWilliams, a top Energy Department official. “The analyses also all confirmed that there is an alternative option that would be less than half the cost of the MOX fuel approach.”

Still, the administration faces big obstacles before it can make the switch. It will have to persuade the Russian government to agree to modify the agreement to allow the United States to change its method for disposing of the plutonium.

Another hurdle is the New Mexico underground storage facility, which has been closed for two years because of a 2014 leak of radioactive material. Once it reopens, the Energy Department will have to obtain legal and regulatory approvals to store the plutonium waste there, and that will mean winning over New Mexico’s political leaders, who are not yet convinced.

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