Regarding NNSA’s Defense Nonproliferation Programs and MOX

I think it would be a big mistake to give unqualified support to restoring funds for NNSA’s Defense Nonproliferation Programs. In my view the best thing that could be done for those programs would be to kill the Mixed Oxide reactor fuel (MOX) program and revive immobilization for ultimate plutonium disposition.

I endorse the strategy of cutting MOX so that the other nonproliferation programs could be spared cuts. I suspect that may be more politically feasible rather than trying to persuade Congress to transfer money from nuclear weapons programs to nonproliferation. [Having said that, I will be trying to cut weapons $$$ regardless.]

I am actually somewhat impressed by the House proposed cuts, after they did propose a 12.8% cut to the requested FY11 NNSA Total Weapons Activities, so apparently there are no sacred cows. I think a cost benefit argument could be made in that the other nonproliferation programs save us money in the long run by discouraging/suppressing nuclear weapons proliferation, whereas there is no economic benefit that I am aware coming from the MOX program (which will probably become a heavy economic liability anyway).

The FY 2011 request for total Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation was $2,687,167,000. In the on-deck continuing resolution to fund the remainder of FY 2011 the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee wants to cut it to $2,085,200,000.  A full 27% of the FY11 Nonproliferation request is dedicated to the MOX program under Fissile Materials Disposition. MOX is arguably a proliferating program instead of a nonproliferation program (never mind potential safety problem and taxpayer giveaways to the nuclear industry).

FY 2011 Request for Fissile Materials Disposition:
Irradiation, Feedstock, and Transportation = 107,787,000
MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site = 475,788,000
Waste Solidification Building (SRS) = 57,000,000
Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility Construction  (SRS) = 80,000,000
Total = 720,575,000

There is nearly 3/4 billion dollars for MOX in the FY11 request. In contrast there is only $29,985,000 in the FY11 request for Uranium Disposition, which is mostly  down blending of the immense stores of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium at

Y-12 (the Project on Government Oversight estimates 200-300 metric tons). As far as Fissile Materials Disposition goes that should really be prioritized.

Maybe MOX could be low hanging fruit now, but beware that the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) is now something like more than 50% constructed. Further, the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) at LANL’s Plutonium Facility-4 is lined up to provide the first two metric tons of feedstock. If something is to be done about MOX it should be done in the near term.

1 Comment

  1. Jay CoghlanMarch 1, 2011

    Recommended reading by Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

    It’s Time to Pull the Plug on the MOX “Factory to Nowhere”

    “However, there is one project within the NNSA’s nonproliferation budget account that does nothing to reduce security threats for the foreseeable future. It is also the single most costly program in the account, receiving over $666 million (over 30% of the total) in FY 2010. Moreover, even if it is completed, it will likely fail to achieve its primary objectives in a reasonable time and at reasonable cost. Worst yet, the project could well increase the risk that plutonium will end up in the hands of terrorists. For this reason, this program should never have been funded out of NNSA’s nonproliferation account in the first place.

    The name of this project? The U.S. Plutonium Disposition Program.” [AKA the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Program]

Comments are closed.

Scroll to top