A senior Energy Department official, in a burst of candor this week, said that the hundreds of millions of dollars Congress plans to spend next year on a controversial project meant to get rid of Cold War-era nuclear explosive materials would be wasted.
The Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina - also known as MOX – is meant to convert excess plutonium from retired military weapons into fuel for civilian reactors. It has cost nearly $5 billion to date – well over initial estimates, and will miss its projected 2018 opening date by many years, if it is actually completed.
Officials in Washington are debating its future, largely due to sticker shock at recent official estimates that the total cost could reach nearly $50 billion. But if Congress in coming weeks – as expected -- approves a spending bill that keeps existing government projects going through the end of this year, the MOX project will keep eating up funds at its current annual rate of $345 million.
The troubled project was designed to fulfill a diplomatic promise to Russia to eliminate 34 metric tons of weapon- grade plutonium. But some lawmakers at a hearing Wednesday, Oct. 7, of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces expressed new regrets.
“The subject of this hearing is a horror story for the American taxpayer,” Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said.
MOX has been plagued by contractor management failures, delays, and performance problems that required work to be redone. But South Carolina’s influential congressional delegation has repeatedly beat back efforts to pursue a cheaper alternative.