Time to Move Away From Controversial Plutonium Facility
The Obama administration’s decision to walk away from a controversial South Carolina plutonium processing facility, which had ballooned to almost 3,000 percent over budget during the last decade, is detailed in a “Sensitive But Unclassified” document obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
While the President’s budget cuts funding for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX), the reason was outlined in a November memo to President Obama from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who told the President the Department of Energy was shifting focus and funding away from MOX toward a plutonium disposition process that will actually work: The alternative is “much faster and cheaper,” Moniz wrote.
Congress must now decide whether to reinsert funding for MOX or let the project die. However, history has shown that the project has powerful political support from the South Carolina delegation, which has kept it alive despite massive cost overruns.
David Hobson, former chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, called the MOX project “the biggest, baddest earmark of all time.”
“My biggest regret from my time in Congress is not finding a way to thwart the project,” the Ohio Republican wrote in an op-ed for POGO. “The project was never about good policy - just politics.”
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian added: “The document obtained by POGO shows that after 14 years and $5 billion wasted, the Energy Department is finally ready to leave MOX behind to pursue a faster and cheaper strategy. It's time for the allegedly fiscally conservative Congress to practice what they preach and cut this boondoggle once and for all."
The U.S. began planning the MOX facility in 2002 as part of an earlier bilateral agreement with Russia in which both countries agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of nuclear weapons grade plutonium. The MOX facility would convert the plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors.
But now, 14 years later, the MOX program is almost 3,000 percent over budget, lacks even a single potential customer for the fuel, and could actually be putting our nuclear material at risk. A report last year estimated that it could cost up to $114 billion to operate MOX over the next 20 years on top of the $5 billion the federal government has already spent.
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