South Carolina Mixed-Oxide Nuclear Plant Said to Cost Billions More

Global Security Newswire Staff
Feb. 19, 2014, 9:37 a.m.

The fi­nal price tag of a mixed-ox­ide nuc­le­ar fuel fa­cil­ity be­ing built in South Car­o­lina may be as high as $30 bil­lion, an un­re­leased U.S. study con­cludes.

Uniden­ti­fied gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and in­dustry in­siders who were briefed on the En­ergy De­part­ment study’s find­ings told the Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­teg­rity the pro­jec­ted cost growth for the mixed-ox­ide fuel fab­ric­a­tion plant has led the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to fa­vor pur­su­ing al­tern­at­ives for dis­pos­ing of the 34 tons of weapons-grade plutoni­um that the Sa­van­nah River site was in­ten­ded to handle.

The prob­able fi­nal ex­pense of the con­tro­ver­sial MOX plant would likely be between $25 bil­lion and $30 bil­lion, sources said in the Fri­day art­icle.

Nu­mer­ous of­fi­cials are start­ing to think that “it’s time for a shift­ing of gears,” said an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

However, be­cause no oth­er fully de­veloped op­tion has emerged for deal­ing with the Rus­si­an-ori­gin plutoni­um, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will prob­ably seek fisc­al 2015 funds to con­tin­ue build­ing the mixed-ox­ide plant. Of­fi­cials said the sought-after fund­ing likely will be less than the roughly $343 mil­lion as­signed for the pro­ject in the cur­rent fisc­al year. A total of $4 bil­lion has already been spent on con­struc­tion.

The U.S. Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is over­see­ing con­struc­tion of the fuel-fab­ric­a­tion plant, de­clined to com­ment on the re­port.

The En­ergy De­part­ment re­portedly is in­volved in drawn-out secret ne­go­ti­ations with Shaw Areva MOX Ser­vices, which is in charge of con­struct­ing and op­er­at­ing the plant. The de­part­ment’s goal is to modi­fy the con­tract with the European con­sor­ti­um so that com­pany profits are lowered and more of the bur­den of cost over­runs is shif­ted onto Shaw Areva’s shoulders.

However, talks are at an im­passe, so the gov­ern­ment is now ex­amin­ing al­tern­at­ives for dis­pos­ing of the sur­plus plutoni­um, sources told the cen­ter.

Rus­si­an of­fi­cials have sug­ges­ted in private dip­lo­mat­ic dis­cus­sions that they would be open to a plan that con­verts the plutoni­um met­al in­to a more pro­lif­er­a­tion-res­ist­ant powder form, which could then be en­tombed deep un­der­ground, an of­fi­cial said. Such a plan could take half a dec­ade to com­plete and cost $6 bil­lion, an un­named source pro­jec­ted in the art­icle.

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