Secrecy News

DOE Seeks to End MOX Plutonium Disposal Program

The Trump Administration requested $220 million next year “to continue the orderly and safe closure of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility.”

The MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility was intended to eliminate excess weapons-grade plutonium by blending it with uranium oxide to produce a “mixed oxide” that is not suitable for nuclear weapons. The Administration proposes instead to pursue a “dilute and dispose” approach.

Termination of the MOX Facility in South Carolina had previously been proposed — but not approved — in budget requests for the last two years, due to mounting costs.

“Construction remains significantly over budget and behind schedule,” the Department of Energy said in a November 2017 report to Congress. “The MOX production objective was not met in 2015 or 2016 and will not be met in 2017.”

“Due to the increasing costs of constructing and operating the MOX facility, both the Department’s analysis and independent analyses of U.S. plutonium disposition strategies have consistently and repeatedly concluded that the MOX fuel strategy is more costly and requires more annual funding than the dilute and dispose approach,” the DOE report said. The report was released by DOE under the Freedom of Information Act.

Though disfavored by the Administration, the MOX program has a champion in South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. “I will fight like crazy” to preserve it unless he is convinced that a superior alternative exists, he said at a February 8 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Detailed background on the MOX program can be found in Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues, Congressional Research Service, December 14, 2017.

The latest proposal to terminate the MOX program was reported in “Aiken County legislators unsurprised by Trump’s anti-MOX budget” by Colin Demarest, Aiken Standard, February 19.

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