Energy Watchdog: Plutonium Plant’s Missteps Still Loom Large

Workers lay concrete in 2008 at the unfinished Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. The Energy Department's inspector general sees a risk of repeating errors that led to cost overruns in the project at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
May 27, 2014, 10:57 a.m.

Aud­it­ors said the En­ergy De­part­ment may re­peat mis­steps that led to cost and sched­ule over­runs in an ini­ti­at­ive to elim­in­ate weapon-grade plutoni­um.

Of­fi­cials used an “im­ma­ture design” to es­tab­lish a 2007 “baseline” plan for a new fa­cil­ity to con­vert the plutoni­um in­to mixed-ox­ide re­act­or fuel, the En­ergy De­part­ment’s in­spect­or gen­er­al said in a new re­port. Gregory Fried­man and his audit team said the move led to in­ap­pro­pri­ately op­tim­ist­ic pre­dic­tions on con­struc­tion costs and em­ploy­ee turnover. Ul­ti­mately, rami­fic­a­tions in­cluded three years of delays and nearly $3 bil­lion in un­ex­pec­ted costs for the pro­ject at South Car­o­lina’s Sa­van­nah River Site.

“We re­main con­cerned with the pro­ject man­age­ment is­sues ob­served dur­ing the audit,” Fried­man said in the May 22 as­sess­ment.

He said the prob­lems found by his of­fice’s in­vest­ig­a­tion and by sim­il­ar probes are “ap­plic­able to the fu­ture dir­ec­tion of the MOX Fa­cil­ity and oth­er large de­part­ment con­struc­tion pro­jects.” Pre­vi­ously, the Army Corps of En­gin­eers de­term­ined that the MOX plant would cost $30 bil­lion to build and main­tain.

The En­ergy De­part­ment earli­er this year an­nounced plans to moth­ball the MOX fa­cil­ity, due to rising costs and sched­ule delays. The de­part­ment’s semi­autonom­ous Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion is still eval­u­at­ing op­tions for dis­pos­ing of the 34 met­ric tons of ex­cess U.S. weapons-grade plutoni­um, as re­quired un­der a non­pro­lif­er­a­tion deal with Rus­sia.

“This as­sess­ment and [an] as­so­ci­ated in­de­pend­ent re­view are ex­pec­ted to be com­pleted in the next 12 to 18 months,” ac­cord­ing to the in­spect­or gen­er­al’s re­port. “We are hope­ful that the audit res­ults can help to in­form the cur­rent pro­ject re­as­sess­ment.”

What We're Following See More »
WEST WING REDUX
Allison Janney Takes to the Real White House Podium
21 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Carolyn Kaster/AP

STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
47 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

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.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

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.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

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."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

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.”

Source:
×