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MOX nuclear fuel program falls behind yet again

Posted Aug. 1, 2013 / Posted by: Katherine Fuchs

Department of Energy misses yet another deadline for plutonium disposition program

As Friends of the Earth has long contended, the Department of Energy doesn’t really have a plan for disposing of surplus nuclear weapons plutonium. For over a decade the Department of Energy has been pursuing a plan to blend the plutonium, left over from Cold War nuclear stockpiles, into commercial nuclear reactor fuel. For over a decade this program, called the Mixed Oxide Plutonium Fuel Program or MOX, has faced cost overruns and schedule delays.

July 31 marks the most recent missed deadline for the MOX program. After multiples delays since its original January due date, the Department of Energy has missed its own deadline to release the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Surplus Plutonium Disposition. This is a required report that should detail plans for processing the surplus plutonium, using the final MOX fuel product in reactors and other technical aspects of the program that currently remain unresolved.

The construction budget for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site has skyrocketed from an original estimate of $1.8 billion in 2004 to between $7.7 and $10 billion today. Friends of the Earth estimates that lifecycle costs for the MOX program could top $22 billion. In its fiscal year 2014 budget request, the Obama administration affirmed that “[c]urrent [U.S.] plutonium disposition approach may be unaffordable ... due to cost growth and fiscal pressure” and that the Obama administration “will assess the feasibility of alternative plutonium disposition strategies.”

Because the administration is now considering other, more fiscally prudent options to dispose of surplus plutonium, Friends of the Earth and a dozen other environmental and nonproliferation organizations requested that the Department of Energy cancel the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Surplus Plutonium Disposition. While the Department of Energy did not directly respond to Friend’s of the Earth’s request, today’s missed deadline implies that our message did get through.

With no customers for its final product, out of control costs and an ever slipping schedule, now is the time for the Department of Energy to stop throwing good money after bad. Less expensive, technically sound options exist for disposing of surplus weapons plutonium, and the Department of Energy should pursue them before wasting any more time or tax dollars.

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