Twenty-one lawmakers on Monday said President Obama cannot draw from a plutonium-conversion plant's construction fund to keep the project on hold.
The Energy Department's 2015 budget proposal calls for pausing work on the unfinished plant, which would convert bomb plutonium into mixed-oxide reactor fuel at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The MOX facility construction began after Washington and Moscow agreed to begin in 2018 to eliminate plutonium from their stockpiles.
Congress "explicitly" designated funds in fiscal 2014 for "construction" of the facility, the legislators said in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Missive signers included South Carolina's seven House representatives, as well as lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington state.
"The funds were not authorized or appropriated for cold-standby, and we request they be used only for construction as Congress intended," the letter says. "The intent of Congress is being ignored and as a result we may see a usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse."
The lawmakers added they had "never seen" how the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the MOX plant would cost $30 billion to build and maintain, and they pressed for disclosure of the calculations.
"Moreover, we request a study to analyze the cost associated with placing MOX into cold-standby, which is estimated to be between $700 and $900 million," they wrote.
Meanwhile, construction of the MOX facility is proceeding, using current-year funds, the Augusta Chronicle reported on Monday.
"We continue building the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility under our [fiscal year] 2014 budget and direction," Kelly Trice, president of Shaw Areva MOX Services, said in a statement to site workers.
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