Nuclear Regulatory Commission Grants 10-Year Extension of MOX Plant Construction Authorization, Underscoring Lengthy Delays in Construction of Mismanaged Plutonium Fuel Facility
SRS Watch Notes that More Delays Mean More Costs and Schedule Uncertainty as Fate of the Project Hangs in the Balance
Columbia, SC – The controversial plutonium fuel (MOX) plant under construction at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS) now faces up to a 10-year delay in construction, according to a license extension request approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The NRC, in a notice published on October 23 in the Federal Register, has approved an extension in the construction authorization for the MOX plant from March 30, 2015 to March 30, 2025. The construction authorization was originally approved on March 30, 2015 for a 10-year period.
The 10-year period is to “bound” the additional length of time needed to complete the project, though it is unknown if the project can ever be completed or if the plant will operate. Due to growing stress on the DOE budget, DOE has stated that the project is not “sustainable.” Funds are not available to complete or operate the MOX plant and still there are no customers - electric utilities that own nuclear reactors - willing to use the experimental plutonium fuel that might be made at the plant. MOX fuel made from weapon-grade plutonium has never been used on a commercial basis anywhere worldwide and only one test of the new type fuel was conducted in a reactor (Catawba) owned by Duke Energy but the test was halted in 2008 before it was completed.
“This delay in construction of the MOX plant is an admission that spiraling costs will increase further and affirms that there is no certain date for completion of the controversial project,”said Tom Clements director of the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch. “It is inexcusable that DOE has allowed the MOX project to continually drift with no firm budget and no established construction schedule, things that are indicative of a mismanaged project that is far over budget. This 10-year delay is a clear signal that DOE needs to move forward with placing the project on cold standby as it considers other safer and cheaper ways to dispose of surplus weapons plutonium.”
On May 12, 2014, Shaw AREVA MOX Services requested in a letter to the NRC that the 10-year extension be granted, citing various reasons for the delays, including problems with securing adequate funding, lack of qualified components vendors and delay in receipt of components and a shortage of qualified workers.
The cost of the MOX plant construction has risen from around $1 billion in the year 2000 to an official $7.7 billion today but DOE officials have publicly stated that the cost of construction alone could be closer to $10 billion. DOE has stated that the overall project cost is $30 billion or more, a figure that DOE has said is unsustainable. CB&I AREVA MOX Services still refuse to release a life-cycle cost of the project. SRS Watch formally requested such a cost estimate over six months ago but there has been no response. Likewise, written requests by SRS Watch for the life-cycle cost estimate of Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Joe Wilson have gone unanswered. Neither politician has revealed how the project can be funded over the long term as the DOE budget faces mounting pressure.
As expected, the NRC has determined that the lengthy delay does not significantly change environmental-impact considerations and thus no new environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project is needed.
Federal Register notice of October 23, 2014 entitled Shaw AREVA MOX Services; Mxed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility:
Letter dated May 12, 2014 from Kelly Trice of MOX Services to the NRC, requesting the 10-year construction authorization extension – posted on SRS Watch website: