Approved by Congress as far back as 1998, the Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Fabrication Facility is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into power plant reactor fuel. Moscow and Washington signed a deal in 2000 under which each country would dispose of 34 tons of plutonium.
Since then, everything has gone wrong for the MOX deal. The project’s cost was initially estimated at $1.7 billion, but by 2013 it had risen to $7.7. In addition, approximately $5 billion, three times the original estimate, has already been spent since construction began in 2007. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and contractors working on the project say it is currently 70 percent complete.
However, the MOX facility was never favored by the Obama administration. When the US president came to power, he ordered the closure of the proposed facility to make way for an alternative plant in New Mexico, which would use a cheaper processing method known as dilution and disposal. The DOE also maintains that the MOX site in South Carolina is only 40 percent complete and would cost $1 billion a year to operate.
‘Not what we agreed on,’ says Putin
While South Carolina squeezes from one side, Washington is also facing mounting pressure from Russia on the other.[…]
For Russia, however, the use of a cheaper processing method constitutes a breach of contract because it carries a potential for reversal, as explained by the Russian president.
“With the dilution and disposal method, the nuclear fuel retains its breakout potential, so it can be extracted, processed and weaponized again. That is not what we agreed on,” said Putin, who personally oversaw the signing of the original deal during his first term as Russian president.Rosatom, the state-owned Russian nuclear holding, says the MOX deal with the US clearly says that the repossession of plutonium must be done in a reactor.
“The only way to irreversibly turn plutonium into a material not usable in a nuclear weapon is by changing its isotope composition. Any chemical method is reversible,” Rosatom spokesman Vladimir Troyanov told RT.
“Russian experts consider the American proposal not in line with the goal of the deal because under it the process must be irreversible. Moreover, the deal wording included ‘resulting from a reactor transformation.’”
Russia has gone to great lengths to uphold its end of the bargain, including by building an MOX fuel facility in the city of Zheleznogorsk in eastern Siberia. It has also invested in BN-600 and BN-800 fast neutron reactors, which will use MOX fuel made of weapons-grade plutonium and ensure it is unusable for nuclear weapons.