This week the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) joined a bipartisan coalition of organizations urging the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to end funding for the most wasteful Department of Energy construction project. Groups joining the letter included Council for a Livable World, R Street Institute, and Women’s Action for New Directions.
The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) was designed to convert weapons grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. But with no potential customers and a basis in questionable, decades-old technology, it has become nothing more than a sinkhole for billions of taxpayer dollars.
Only recently has ending this wasteful spending become a bipartisan issue. Last year President Obama recommended canceling MOX but Congress continued to fund it. This year President Trump also recommended that Congress terminate the project, noting the “350-percent cost growth and a 32-year schedule slip.”
The bipartisan criticism continued in a recent Senate Appropriations hearing. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, led off the questioning by highlighting the explosive costs of the MOX facility compared to the much cheaper and faster plutonium disposition alternative preferred by the Energy Department.
The Department has stated that over $5 billion has already been spent on MOX construction but the final price tag is expected to be at least $17 billion. And that doesn’t include the cost of operating the facility, which could be as high as another $20 billion. Furthermore, last year Russia pulled out of the agreement on which the entire project was based.
Ranking Member Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) praised the Chairman’s line of questioning and assured the Committee she agreed with Senator Alexander’s comments. Later in the hearing she brought the conversation back to MOX by referencing the billions of dollars that could be devoted to other nuclear non-proliferation activities if the project were canceled.
'Despite the numerous reasons to cancel the project, funding has continued in recent years due, in part, to an enormously successful lobbying effort by the contractors in charge of the project and the unions working on it.
The contractor has effectively lined up several Senators and Representatives who have made sure that taxpayer dollars continue to flow to the MOX project. Unfortunately some of those very same Senators and Representatives will participate in the final decision-making on whether to continue funding MOX.
Senators Alexander and Feinstein’s comments on how wasteful the MOX project is are a good start. But it’s time for the rest of Congress to step up and demonstrate they, too, are protecting taxpayers’ best interests.