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 »
BIG CHANGE FROM WHEN HE SELF-FINANCED
Trump Enriching His Businesses with Donor Money
10 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign." A campaign spokesman "said the increased office space was needed to accommodate an anticipated increase in employees," but the campaign's paid staff has actually dipped by about 25 since March. The campaign has also paid his golf courses and restaurants about $260,000 since mid-May.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Variety Looks at How Michelle Obama Has Leveraged Pop Culture
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen," says Michelle Obama in a new profile in Variety. "So I’m always game for a good joke, and I’m not so formal in this role. There’s very little that we can’t do that people wouldn’t appreciate.” According to writer Ted Johnson, Mrs. Obama has leveraged the power of pop culture far beyond her predecessors. "Where are the people?" she asks. "Well, they’re not reading the op-ed pieces in the major newspapers. They’re not watching Sunday morning news talk shows. They’re doing what most people are doing: They are watching TV.”

Source:
QUESTIONS OVER IMMIGRATION POLICY
Trump Cancels Rallies
18 hours ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump probably isn't taking seriously John Oliver's suggestion that he quit the race. But he has canceled or rescheduled rallies amid questions over his stance on immigration. Trump rescheduled a speech on the topic that he was set to give later this week. Plus, he's also nixed planned rallies in Oregon and Las Vegas this month.

Source:
‘STRATEGY AND MESSAGING’
Sean Hannity Is Also Advising Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Donald Trump's Fox News brain trust keeps growing. After it was revealed that former Fox chief Roger Ailes is informally advising Trump on debate preparation, host Sean Hannity admitted over the weekend that he's also advising Trump on "strategy and messaging." He told the New York Times: “I’m not hiding the fact that I want Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States. I never claimed to be a journalist.”

Source:
THE SHAKE-UP CONTINUES
RNC’s Spicer to Work from Trump HQ
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican party will coordinate more closely going forward, with the GOP's top communicator and chief strategist Sean Spicer increasingly working out of Trump campaign headquarters, the campaign confirmed Sunday."

Source:
×