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Oink: TV ad skewers Lindsey Graham's pork-barrel plutonium MOX boondoggle

Posted Jun. 19, 2013 / Posted by: Adam Russell

As key House committee takes up budget for plutonium disposition program, campaign to end funding of troubled MOX project ramps up on DC & South Carolina airwaves 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – If it walks like pork and sounds like pork -- even with a French accent -- it's probably pork. And pork is what the Department of Energy’s MOX Project is.

As a key House subcommittee takes up funding for the problem-plagued, budget-busting nuclear fuel program, Senator Lindsey Graham’s obsessive support of the project at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River site in his home state of South Carolina is being targeted in an off-beat, on-target TV ad from Friends of the Earth.

The House Energy and Water Subcommittee is this week discussing Department of Energy funding for the MOX Project, which would make nuclear reactor fuel from surplus weapons plutonium. The Obama Administration has requested a large cut to the program both this year and in later years, possibly terminating the project.  Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and other environmental and public interest groups are campaigning for an end to MOX funding.

The ad features pigs in lobbyists' suits with a twist at the end after it is revealed that one of the main beneficiaries of Graham's MOX madness is a French company, "sending tax dollars overseas." 

"We wanted to call out Senator Graham's determination to continue uncontrolled spending on a project that is $6 billion over budget, behind schedule and has no future market for its product," Tom Clements, Friends of the Earth's South Carolina-based nuclear campaigner. "MOX has become nothing more than a pork-barrel project used by Senator Graham to line the pockets of special interests." The French company AREVA is a main beneficiary of the MOX plant design and construction.

The 30-second “Oink” ad begins running today in Washington on FOX, MSNBC and on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, with a strong social media push including ads on Facebook and YouTube. It is also running on broadcast TV in South Carolina -- in the capital city of Columbia and in the Aiken-Augusta market, near the DOE's Savannah River site, where the $7.7-billion plutonium fuel MOX plant is under construction.

The cost of constructing a factory at the Savannah River site to make mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuel, or MOX, from surplus weapons plutonium has soared from $1.6 billion in 2004 to $4.8 billion in 2008 to $7.7 billion today. Clements, co-author of an upcoming article on MOX in Arms Control Today, said there are rumors in the Energy Department that the cost could reach $10 billion. 

In addition to being far over budget and more expensive than safer plutonium disposal options, there are no commercial nuclear reactors lined up to take any MOX fuel which might be produced if the plant can ever be finished or start up. MOX use in nuclear reactors makes the reactors harder to control and can contribute to higher radiation release in case of accident.

Rather than calling for safer and cheaper options to dispose of the nation’s stockpile of surplus weapons plutonium -- such as immobilizing it in DOE's existing high-level waste -- Graham has doubled down with his support of the costly MOX project. Given his allegiance to special interest constructing the MOX plant, Graham refuses to propose viable cheaper alternatives to the MOX option and has been silent about where additional billions of dollars will come from to construct and operate the MOX plant. Friends of the Earth has calculated that an additional $22 billion is yet to be spent on the overall MOX program, which includes such things as construction, operation and waste management.

The plant is being poorly managed by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the nuclear weapons arm of DOE. A private consortium called Shaw AREVA MOX Services is designing and constructing the plant. AREVA is a French-owned company that has its eyes on profiting from continued construction and on an estimated $543 million/year operating cost.

In the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, DOE stated that in "the current budget environment" the Administration is assessing "alternative plutonium disposition strategies" and will identify options for FV 2014 and beyond." This indicates that funding for the MOX program is not sustainable and that cheaper disposal options must be pursued.

“We totally support the DOE’s assessment of the problem-plagued MOX project and urge Senator Graham to halt his support for exorbitant funding for the MOX plant to nowhere,” said Clements. 

The ad, which asks the viewer to take action against Graham’s big-spending, anchors renewed efforts by Friends of the Earth against continued funding by Congress for the troubled MOX project.

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Contact:
Tom Clements, (803) 834-3084, (803) 240-7268 (cell);
Alex Frank, (703) 276-3264;
Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911

Note:
Aerial photo of MOX plant at the Savannah River Site, March 29, 2013, can be used with credit to Friends of the Earth: http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/6a/b/2857/MOX_plant_1_3.29.2013.JPG 

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