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State goes to court to keep MOX project on track

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Staff Report
Published Feb. 10, 2016

South Carolina has sued the U.S. Department of Energy over plans to shutter the controversial MOX project at Savannah River Site.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Tuesday that he he filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to “require the federal government to obey the law.” The suit was filed after President Barack Obama submitted budget documents proposing to terminate the program in 2017.

Wilson said that in 2015 after a meeting Energy Department officials the agency promised to continue construction on the project, which is about 70% complete.

“The federal government has a responsibility to follow through with its promises,” Wilson said. “The Department of Energy has continually shown disregard for its obligations under federal law to the nation, the state of South Carolina and frankly the rule of law. The federal government is not free to flout the law. This behavior will not be tolerated. We are committed to using ever legal avenue possible to ensure compliance.”

Earlier Tuesday, the White House released its spending proposal for fiscal year 2017 and asked Congress to appropriate $270 million to pay for the MOX project, well below the $340 million in this year’s budget.

In the budget documents, the Energy Department said cost analyses “confirm that the MOX fuel approach will be significantly more expensive than anticipated and will require approximately $800 million to $1 billion annually for decades. As a result, the FY 2017 budget proposes that the MOX project be terminated.”

Originally estimated to cost $4.9 billion, projections have zoomed to $7.7 billion, according to federal reports. And the price could go higher. The Energy Department estimates that the project could cost $30 billion to finish in 2019, three years past the original completion date.

Just to shut down the MOX project will cost $600 million to $700 million, said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, adding that the money already spent on the project will have to be “written off.”

“DOE is to be congratulated for admitting the reality that the MOX project is not financially or technically viable and must be terminated,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch. “Termination is the only option for MOX as there is no viable path forward for the project from a financial or technical perspective.”

Wilson’s father, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., criticized the Obama administration’s decision to shut down the program, which employs about 1,800.

“Terminating funding to the MOX facility is yet another example of the president’s refusal to see the facts,” Rep. Wilson said. “The MOX facility is crucial to our environmental clean-up missions, which produces green fuel, and national security. This decision to eliminate funding to the MOX facility is counterproductive and short-sighted.”

Rep. Wilson added that processing plutonium through the MOX facility “is the only way to uphold” the United States’ nuclear non-proliferation agreement with the Russia.

The Energy Department plans to switch to a “downblending” alternative rather than convert weapons-grade plutonium and uranium to mixed-oxide fuel (MOX), which could be used for commercial nuclear power. The Energy Department also wants some excess plutonium currently stored at SRS to be diluted and shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico.

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