The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) commends President Trump’s decision to recommend terminating one of the most wasteful nuclear construction projects of the last decade.
The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) in South Carolina has a long history of cost overruns, debilitating delays, and difficult diplomatic negotiations. As the President noted in his budget proposal, the project has seen a “350-percent cost growth and a 32-year schedule slip.” These delays led Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce last year that he would be withdrawing from the non-proliferation agreement that was the basis for building the MOX facility.
The Plutonium Disposition and Management Agreement was signed with Russia during the Clinton administration. It stated that both countries agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium by turning it into a form that would make it nearly impossible to use for nuclear warfare.
Unfortunately the deal was renegotiated in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While the United States remained fully committed to MOX, the new deal allowed Russia to pursue an alternative method that could actually increase Russia’s stockpile of plutonium. Meanwhile the cost of constructing the MOX facility skyrocketed, the contractor in charge failed to stay on schedule, the only potential customer for the fuel dropped out of the project, and the Energy Department questioned the decades-old technology on which the facility was based.
With Russia abandoning the deal in 2016, the final justification for continuing to fund this nuclear boondoggle was gone. President Obama recommended ending construction and moving to an alternative method in his FY17 budget proposal. But Congress decided to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars for the project in the final budget, very likely because of an enormously successful lobbying effort by the contractors in charge of the project.
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 it is those very same Senators and Representatives who will end up making the final decision on whether to continue funding MOX.
POGO is pleased to see the Trump administration take the first step toward ending this wasteful project. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and demonstrate they, too, are protecting taxpayers’ best interests.