COLUMBIA, S.C. (WJBF)- President Trump’s Department of Energy proposes eliminating the MOX project, which employs more than a thousand people in Aiken.
The future of the over-budget, behind schedule project has been brought to the table again. President Trump’s Department of Energy’s budget proposal suggests cutting the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication, or MOX, project. Like it did last year. And like President Obama’s did in 2016.
However, local leaders have kept funding alive, and they plan to continue fighting for it.
“You have this vast investment here and a fantastic facility,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
So what is the facility? It’s the result of a now-defunct agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium that can be used to make nuclear weapons. It would take that plutonium and convert it into fuel with the goal of selling it to commercial nuclear reactors, but independent SRS watch dog Tom Clements says no one’s buying.
“U.S. reactors use uranium, so they don’t have any customers,” he said. “And if they have customers, tell us about them, but they wouldn’t be able to use the fuel until the facility was operating.”
Production was supposed to commence in 2016, but a DOE report from that year puts the completion date at 2048 and total costs at $17.7 billion.
About $5 billion has been spent on construciton so far, Clements says.
“Supporters of the MOX project would say they need $800 million a year to have a really robust program,” he said. “And last year they fought for $500 million, and they only got $340 million…they can’t make alot of progress at that fairly low level.”
The DOE’s budget proposal calls for $279 million to shut the project down, plus $59 million to dilute and dispose of the plutonium– mixing it with inert material and sending it off to be buried in a nuclear waste dump.
The budget also proposes a 20 percent increase for funding of waste clean up at SRS. It says that waste poses the highest risk for the public, workers, and the environment, so removing it has high priority.
Congress will make the final decision on the proposals from the DOE’s budget.