A U.S. Congress watchdog is faulting the Energy Department for not having a clear idea why costs have risen so much on a key nonproliferation program.
The department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration forecasts a roughly $3 billion increase in the cost to its efforts to dispose of surplus weapons-grade plutonium by transforming it into atomic reactor fuel known as mixed oxide. Congress’ Government Accountability Office in a new report released on Thursday said the agency had erred by not analyzing the “root causes” behind the cost increase.
The congressional auditors noted the nuclear weapons agency historically has “difficulty in completing projects within cost and schedule,” which has contributed to a number of these initiatives facing “high risk of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.”
The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has seen its projected price tag rise from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion. Several government officials and industry insiders recently told the Center for Public Integrity the final cost of building and operating the plant could reach as high as $30 billion. That projected expense reportedly has led the Obama administration to consider looking for another option for disposing of the 34 tons of plutonium that the MOX facility was intended to handle.
One major reason for the rising project costs is that the Energy Department in 2007 approved cost and schedule estimates when the overall designs were only 58 percent complete, according to the GAO report. Because of this early move, agency officials are now reporting that the expense of key components for the plant are on average 60 percent higher than was earlier estimated.
The report concluded there was not a clear understanding as to why the Energy Department approved the cost estimates when the design work was far from being complete. Having that knowledge could help NNSA officials in the future avoiding repeating the mistakes made with the mixed-oxide program, the auditors said.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."