At Y-12, the cost of designing the Uranium Processing Facility keeps spiraling: $92 million in '06, $2 billion by '16. (How do you spend 2 billion dollars designing anything?)
- See OREPA's June '15 UPF update
Click the image to download this large printable map of DOE sites, commercial reactors, nuclear waste dumps, nuclear transportation routes, surface waters near sites and transport routes, and underlying aquifers. This map was prepared by Deborah Reade for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
The MOX Fuel Conundrum
The attempt by power companies to restart nuclear power plants and use MOX fuel at some plants only deepens the contradiction that Japan's power industry cannot escape.
Japan Times Editorial, July 26, 2013
MOX: "the plutonium nose under the tent"
"Some experts say that lurking behind that deal were not-so-hidden political and industry agendas to revive the development of breeder reactors. Breeder [reactor] advocates were pleased because it would create, for the first time, an industrial-scale facility in America capable of turning plutonium into reactor fuel- a key step on the path to a revived breeder program.
"The MOX plant was 'the plutonium nose under the tent', said Henry Sokolski, who served as a senior nonproliferation official under President Reagan.
"The U.S. breeder revival got a more concerted push in 2001, when an industry-friendly energy task force formed by Vice President Dick Cheney called for nuclear 'fuel treatment technologies' that would lead to the recovery and reuse of plutonium for electricity production."
(The Atlantic, 6/24/13)
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The Bulletin, April 28, 2016: Can the US-Russia Plutonium Disposition Agreement Be Saved? Pavel Podvig: "These days, projects and agreements that were once flagships of US-Russia cooperation can suddenly give rise to bitter dispute. The most recent controversy involves a cooperative program that commits Russia and the United States to eliminating a significant part of their weapon-grade plutonium stocks. Experts knew there was potential for tension, but it still came as a surprise when Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a meeting with journalists in April, launched a broadside against the United States, accusing it of not living up to its side of the deal. Not only is the United States not fulfilling its agreed obligations, he said, it is also trying to change the way it deals with plutonium in such a way that the material "can be retrieved, reprocessed and converted into weapons-grade plutonium again." At that moment, it became clear that the future of the plutonium disposition program will be a serious irritant in the US-Russian relationship. Strictly speaking, the Russian president described the situation correctly, but he was wrong in his implication about US motives..."(read more at the Bulletin)
Radio Free Europe, April 23, 2016: As Putin Swipes At US Over Plutonium Disposal, Nuclear Cooperation Takes A Hit Excerpts: Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a forum in St Petersburg in April, said that the Americans were 'reneging' on a 16-year-old deal that called for reducing Russia's and the United States' stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, and accused Washington of trying to preserve its ability to turn some of its plutonium stockpile back into a form usable for nuclear weapons.
"This is not what we agreed on. Now we will have to think about what to do about this and how to respond to this," Putin said. "By all indications, this will also be an irritant, which will provoke a corresponding reaction."
Gary Samore, who oversaw nonproliferation and arms control efforts in the White House under both Obama and President Bill Clinton, said Putin's remarks reflect Russian worries about U.S. intentions and capabilities that date back to the early days of the Cold War. However, he said, by moving away from the MOX dilution effort, the Americans are essentially changing the agreement. "Putin is right. We're proposing to modify the agreement. And the Russians, if they wanted to, they would be within their rights to say that they're not going to carry through with the agreement."
The State Department, however, has denied that the United States has violated the agreement, saying it allows for the two sides to "agree on disposition methods that do not involve irradiation in nuclear reactors."
(read more at RFE/RL)
Federal Budget FY2017: Radioactive Pork Finally on the Chopping Block
Feb 9, 2016. "POGO is pleased to see the Energy Department formally move away from the MOX program and begin working toward a cheaper, faster, and less risky strategy for disposing this dangerous material.
- "A 'Sensitive But Unclassified' document from the Secretary of Energy, obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, indicates that the Department is concerned that 'parochial interests' in Congress may thwart their plans to kill the MOX program."
See Pogo report Update Feb 25: Predictably, Republican members of South Carolina's congressional delegation are up in arms. The state attorney general is filing a lawsuit in federal court to stop the abandonment of the extraordinarily bloated - and still unfinished- project. "The Department of Energy has continually shown disregard for its obligations," Alan Wilson said in a statement. "The federal government is not free to flout the law. This behavior will not be tolerated." (ref)
Oct. 15, 2015: When Tax Dollars Go to Waste A failed program meant to dispose of Cold War plutonium is costing taxpayers a fortune.
The MOX Fiasco: Already spent: $4.8 billion; final cost current estimate: $12 to $14 billion; original estimate: $1 billion.
"...years behind schedule, billions of dollars over-budget, suffering from contractor disputes and only about one-third finished..."
"By all objective measures, it's an open-and-shut case: The MOX project is a failure, and Congress needs to shut it down. Nevertheless, due to parochialism, inertia and indecision, Congress can't seem to take that step." -Ryan Alexander, Pres., Taxpayers for Common Sense
(US News & World Report, Oct 15, 2015) / (Taxpayers for Common Sense, Oct 16, 2015)
Sept. 10, 2015, Washington Post: Energy Secretary is Urged to End Nuclear Fuel Program at Savannah River
"A group of more than a dozen prominent former arms negotiators and senior diplomats has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging an end to the U.S. nuclear fuel program at the government's Savannah River complex that they say is too costly and a threat to non-proliferation efforts..."
(The US is trying to convince other countries (South Korea, China, Japan) to not go down the road of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium; the less there is of the stuff the better.)
"'In addition to saving money, ending the current MOX program would be in the nation's national security interest' the letter said, noting that the United States would have more credibility with other nations if it ended its own MOX program and treated the plutonium as waste." - (Washington Post, Sept 10, 2015)
August 21, 2015: DOE Red Team Report: Drop Savannah River MOX Plant, Bury Plutonium at WIPP
A "Red Team" of experts led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Mason has confirmed what the Energy Department has been saying for two years- that burying 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium would be far cheaper and more practical than completing a multibillion-dollar plant that would turn the radioactive material into commercial reactor fuel.
The Department of Energy tried to kill the project in 2013, but Congress has kept it on budgetary life support, with the strong support of South Carolina's congressional delegation. The study essentially says that sooner or later the Energy Department will be forced to abandon the fuel plant, and the sooner it does so the better.
(more at Publicintegrity.org)
Reuters, July 7, 2015:
Battle heats up over U.S. plutonium cleanup program
"The battle over a project to convert excess U.S. weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors - part of a 2000 treaty with Russia - is heating up amid concerns the program's multibillion-dollar costs could balloon further.
"Edwin Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the U.S. government should stop wasting money on what he called a "pork barrel" project kept alive by parochial interests in Congress. Lyman said it remained unclear which power plants would even buy the pellets, and it made sense to halt the project after years of mismanagement, cost overruns and schedule delays.
"One source familiar with the program, who asked not to be named, said halting work on the project could prompt Russia to withdraw from the 2000 treaty as it has done with others, reversing nuclear non-proliferation efforts at a time of growing tensions with Moscow."
(more from Reuters)
May 14, 2015: After MOX Boondoggle, DOE Eyes Plutonium Disposal at WIPP
The mixed oxide nuclear program, or MOX, was intended to convert plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons into commercial nuclear fuel. The costs of the program however have ballooned to $47.5 billion and the DOE is looking at down-blending, packaging, and sending the surplus plutonium to WIPP. Unfortunately, WIPP is currently closed, recuperating from "a series of critical failures of leadership at every level" and the resulting fire and radioactive leak last year.
SRS Watch Update May 4, 2015: DOE: MOX No Longer Preferred Option For Plutonium Disposition
Savannah River Site Watch Media Advisory
"After chronic delays, DOE terminates plutonium disposition EIS process, discarding the problem-plagued plutonium fuel (MOX) option as the "preferred option" and affirming that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is not now pursuing MOX use.
CB&I Areva MOX services dealt another blow in its push for $51+ billion MOX project..." (View/download PDF)
MOX Update April 22: UCS reports DOE now estimates "to-go" cost at $47.5 billion, up 90% from 2014
Union of Concerned Scientists is reporting today that the DOE's new MOX report puts "to-go" cost at $47.5 billion, compared to the $25.1 billion 'to-go' estimate in 2014. But it gets worse... read the details here.
Union of Concerned Scientists, December, 2014 Excess Plutonium Disposition:
The Failure of MOX and the Promise of Its Alternatives
"Today the U.S. plutonium disposition effort is floundering"
"In 2002 the DOE decided to cancel the immobilization program and focus exclusively on MOX. However, the MOX approach itself has proven far more expensive, technically difficult, and time-consuming than originally anticipated. The MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant at SRS is many years behind schedule. Originally projected to cost about $1.5 billion (in 2014 dollars), it is now estimated to cost at least $30 billion, of which about $4 billion has already been spent. Because of the delays and cost overruns, the DOE now considers the project "unaffordable" and has stated its intention to suspend construction on the plant while it considers alternatives. Congress and the state of South Carolina, however, have other ideas, and have successfully kept the money flowing by compelling the DOE to continue construction of a facility that it no longer wants.
The DOE's mismanagement of the plutonium disposition program was also a major contributor to the cost overruns, delays, and other difficulties that the project is now facing.
"In addition to cost, there are other reasons why it makes sense to end the MOX program and replace it with an alternative. Perhaps most notably, the U.S. MOX program is actually helping to weaken domestic and international standards for securing nuclear materials, rather than strengthening them as the National Academy envisioned."
View/download the full UCS report (PDF)
Aiken Standard, August 13, 2014 MOX: NNSA Wants Cold Stand-By
"In addition to MOX, the Ten Year Site Plan Update referenced several other Site concerns including the lack of funding and delays on waste cleanup and tank closures, the Site's aging workforce and the need to update the aging infrastructure.
"With infrastructure, the report states that cannibalization of parts, costly piecemeal maintenance and temporary modifications have been performed in order to sustain functional performance of many facilities, equipment and systems.
"'This has resulted in an excessive, expensive and inefficient utilization of resources and increased the cost of future capital infrastructure investment' officials wrote."
(DOE plan gives MOX update, outlines SRS funding woes)
Augusta Chronicle July 9, 2014 White House Threatens Veto Of House Bill With MOX Construction Funding
"The Administration strongly objects to language that would require the Secretary of Energy to continue construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility", according to a statement from the White House Office of Management and Budget... The president reiterated his plans to place the MOX facility on standby in fiscal year 2015 while analyzing alternatives.
South Carolina politicians, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Joe Wilson, have said bipartisan support for MOX kept them optimistic about the future of the project.
The MOX facility, which employs about 1,800 workers and is 60 percent complete, is being built to convert 34 metric tons of nuclear warhead plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. About $4 billion has been spent on construction so far, and the life-cycle costs were estimated at $30 billion.
Bloomberg Businessweek, April 24, 2014: A Botched Plan to Turn Nuclear Warheads Into Fuel
"Almost seven years after construction began, the MOX plant is now 60 percent built. But it's looking increasingly likely that it won't ever be completed. Though the government has successfully converted weapons-grade uranium into nuclear fuel for commercial reactors, doing the same with plutonium is proving to be much more complicated...
"The project is vastly over budget: The Department of Energy has sunk about $5 billion into it so far and estimates it will cost an additional $6 billion to $7 billion to finish the plant, plus an additional $20 billion or so to turn the plutonium into fuel over 15 years. In its 2015 budget request released in March, the Department of Energy announced it will place the MOX project on 'cold standby,' effectively mothballing the project for the foreseeable future. 'It's a major fiasco,' says Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. 'Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. It's a classic boondoggle.'"
Global Security Newswire, April 17, 2014: South Carolina Asks Judge to Rule on Mixed-Oxide Suit Without a Trial
The Energy Department announced earlier this year its intention to mothball the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant under construction at the Savannah River Site, due to its rising cost and numerous schedule delays. The department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration has not yet decided on a plan for disposing of the excess U.S. weapons-grade plutonium that the facility was intended to turn into nuclear reactor fuel, as stipulated under a U.S.-Russia nonproliferation agreement.
In March, South Carolina sued the government, arguing it would be illegal to use congressionally appropriated funds toward shutting down the project instead of the intended purpose of finishing up construction.
On Wednesday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he was in talks with Russian officials about other options for the United States to eliminate Russia's surplus plutonium, such as through consumption in a fast reactor, which would need to be constructed. Another option would be to mix the former warhead material with other substances so it becomes proliferation-resistant.
Before bilateral relations suffered a massive setback as a result of Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, Moniz said Russian officials were open to the suggestions Washington was making on plutonium disposition. "Now of course it's a little more complicated in our dealings with Russia" the secretary said.
Center for Public Integrity, Feb. 14, 2014: Nuclear Waste: Cost Of South Carolina Fuel Plant Goes Up By Billions Of Dollars- Again The MOX plant may cost another $30 billion to complete and operate, and federal officials are newly wary
"A study conducted for Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, also found that finishing and then operating the factory to help get rid of Cold War-era plutonium as part of a nonproliferation arrangement with Russia would likely cost a total of $25 billion to $30 billion on top of the $4 billion spent on its construction so far, the sources said.
"That amount is so high, the officials said, that the Obama administration is leaning towards embracing what one described as "some other option" for dealing with the 34 tons of weapons plutonium that the so-called Mixed Oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River was supposed to help eliminate.
"Many officials now agree that "it's time for a shifting of gears," said the administration official, who requested that he not be named because he was not authorized to speak about the report. He added that accommodating such an expensive project within federal budgets that will be constrained for years to come is not considered feasible."
Nuclear Waste: Washington has ignored a cheaper way to dispose of its plutonium until now Center for Public Integrity, June 27 2013:
"...The MOX fuel factory is at the heart of a U.S.-Russian pact that calls for each nation to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium withdrawn from excess nuclear weapons - a deal that's been altered so many times that it's now unclear if the end result will be a world with less plutonium or more... Meanwhile, the fuel factory is billions of dollars over budget and under new scrutiny by the Obama administration, which has threatened to cancel it..." (more)
The MOX story at The Atlantic, June 24, 2013: How a Massive Nuclear Nonproliferation Effort Led to More Proliferation "Dark clouds hover over this ambitious federal project, 17 years in the making and at least six more from completion- if, indeed, it is ever completed. It lies at the center of one of the United States' most troubled, technically complex, costly, and controversial efforts to secure nuclear explosive materials left stranded by the end of the Cold War....
"Its aim is to eliminate 34 metric tons of U.S. plutonium- or 40 percent of the U.S. stockpile of military plutonium- in exchange for a similar destruction of 34 tons of plutonium in Russia.
"This plant- and another just like it in Russia- is meant to transform one of these materials, plutonium, into commercial reactor fuel that can be burned to provide electricity for homes, schools and factories, essentially turning nuclear "swords into ploughshares." The aim of the so-called Mixed Oxide, or MOX, plant is to ensure the material never winds up in the hands of terrorists... But that noble goal has slowly turned into a classic Washington disaster...
"Blown deadlines, lax oversight, and design and construction snafus have transformed the project into an embarrassing symbol of mismanagement by the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, which auditors have repeatedly placed on the government's 'high risk' list of agencies vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse."
But it gets worse: That 'noble goal' seems to have been hijacked by... a revived lust for the breeder reactor, one which produces more plutonium than it uses.
"The deal has not been popular among arms control and nonproliferation groups, which argue that it enables Russia to use U.S. funding and technical assistance to help design and fuel its new fleet of breeder reactors, allowing it to expand its plutonium production in the future, or to help other countries that buy Russian breeders expand theirs. (Discussions are already underway with China for two breeder reactors.)
"'Down the road, we could see the MOX program in Russia lead to the creation of more separated plutonium, not less;' said Tom Z. Collina, a senior official with the Arms Control Association. "That's one of the dangers of the agreement. It could ultimately defeat the original purpose... which is to eliminate stocks of separated plutonium.'"
How did this happen?
(Find out at The Atlantic)
Fortenberry Amendment Protects Real Nonproliferation Priorities, Signals Growing Oversight of Troubled Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Program From the ANA (Alliance for Nuclear Accountability) press release: June 06, 2012. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an amendment offered by Rep. Fortenberry (R-NE) which moves $17 million from the Mixed Oxide Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Program to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.
The passage of the amendment is a clear indication that congressional oversight of the MOX program is increasing. The amendment comes on the heels of an earlier cut of $152 million from the MOX program by the House Appropriations Committee.
Read the full ANA press release here
The Global Threat Reduction Initiative is the front line of defense in our nation's fight to prevent nuclear bomb materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. Rep. Fortenberry's amendment brings funding for this critical program up to the Presidents requested level.
The committee's report stated: "There is still no fidelity on the total project costs and timeline to get the MOX facility up and running, and few details have been provided on the long term investments that will be needed to support full operating feedstock requirements.... The Department [of Energy] is now reporting internally that the total project costs could be understated by as much as $600,000,000 to $900,000,000, and that the project will overrun its projected completion date by months if not years. Further, the updated cost estimates provided by the NNSA for the projected annual operating costs of the MOX facility have skyrocketed and are now 2.5 times the projections of just two years ago."
POGO Calls for MOX Termination Project on Government Oversight: "We're hearing a lot these days about the federal budget crisis. You'd think that with all this talk about the need for austerity, Congress and President Obama would have no problem cutting unneeded and unwanted, projects from the budget. Then why are some members of Congress insisting that we continue to fund a nuclear boondoggle that may end up costing taxpayers $22.1 billion, an unfathomable increase over the original $1.6 billion price tag?
"It's called the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication (MOX) Facility at the Department of Energy's Savannah River site in South Carolina. The facility was designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for use in nuclear energy reactors but the project is a decade behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. What's more not a single customer has been lined up. Not one.
"But it gets worse. There's a plan to spend another $1 billion on the program- just to finish the roof over the facility and then mothball it. That is a pretty expensive roof. And aerial photos show the roof is already constructed. We say stop throwing more money at the program."
POGO: MOX Costs Spiral Further Out of Control Tell Your Representatives to Cut Funding for the Fuel to Nowhere Facility! Update April10:"Obama budget could put end to MOX" The new budget states: "This current plutonium disposition approach may be unaffordable, due to cost growth and fiscal pressure."
October 14, 2016: The US Gov Plutonium Disposal Plant Is, Wait for It... 41 Years Behind Schedule
Plus it's terribly over budget, will never work, and is now pointless after Russia pulled out.
Now the Army Corps of Engineers has released an independent cost estimate for the project that reveals things are even worse than we thought.
(story: War is Boring)
Video, Senate hearing March 16: MOX Slashed in FY 2017 Budget Request
General Frank Klotz, Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration: "It is clear from independent analyses that the MOX Fuel approach is unsustainable given the enormous costs involved. The already proven "dilute and dispose" alternative would enable the plutonium to be disposed of [at WIPP] decades sooner than the MOX approach, at less than half the cost, and with far fewer risks."
Senate Committee on Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee; Wednesday, March 16, 2016
CPI: Special Series- Nuclear Waste
"In the last days of the Clinton Administration the U.S. and Russia agreed to dispose of 34 tons each of plutonium taken from retired nuclear weapons, ensuring the man-made metal would never again be used to build those terrifying devices. But after the expenditure of billions of dollars under three presidents, the arrangement is close to collapse, due to huge cost overruns, Russia's adroit diplomatic maneuvering and Washington's dysfunctional and money-driven politics. The Center's articles here kick off its continuing investigation into the world's faltering efforts to control dangerous nuclear explosives."
"Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount."
-Gen. Omar Bradley
Our Mission: Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities, mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs, greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex, and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.