AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF)- A part of President Trump’s budget proposal could affect thousands of jobs in the CSRA area. The Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, currently under construction in Aiken, was supposed to be converting weapons grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants by 2006, but it is still years away from completion.
The budget says eliminating MOX and going with an alternative disposal method for that plutonium will save a lot of money over time. However, some South Carolina lawmakers are disputing that.
Billions of dollars hang in the balance of a single sentence of President Trump’s proposed budget. It states, “the FY 2018 Budget Request proposes to terminate the MOX project and pursue the dilute and dispose (D&D) option as an alternative.”
It’s referring to the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which was originally part of a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Russia. The goal was to convert at least 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium into fuel that could be used in commerical nuclear reactors.
But the Trump administration, like the Obama administation, is looking at other less costly ways to dispose of the plutonium.
The budget says MOX is 350 percent over budget, and 32 years behind schedule.
Congressman Joe Wilson, whose district includes MOX, disputes those numbers.
“I think it’s wrong,” Wilson said. “And indeed, many of the problems related to…because there have been problems, have been related to the changes, specifications from the Department of Energy itself.”
In a 2016 report, the Department of Energy estimated the project would cost $17.2 billion and be completed in 2048. The contractor said it would cost just under $10 billion and be complete in 2029.
The budget says pursuing the dilute and dispose method will save five to nine billion in construction and billions more in operating costs, while disposing of the plutonium more quickly.
MOX critic and director of SRS Watch Tom Clements says he has some misgivings about the dilute and dispose method. He says there needs to be a full environmental impact statement with that proposal. But he says it is clear that dilute and dispose is a lot cheaper than MOX.