By Michael Mariotte

The Savannah River Site, with the unfinished MOX facility in the right foreground. In the background is Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear complex, where two reactors are operating and two new reactors are under construction. With the likely demise of the MOX project, their power won’t be needed at SRS. Photo by High Flyer, special to SRS Watch.

For decades, some in the U.S. government backed by a few in the nuclear industry and perhaps more in what I call the “nuclear priesthood”–those who have conducted their careers in the shadows of the nuclear industry and in academic settings where they can promote all things nuclear–have espoused the idea of reprocessing used fuel rods (also known as high-level radioactive waste) and creating MOX (plutonium-based) fuel for use in commercial nuclear reactors.

It’s always been a stupid idea environmentally–reprocessing is perhaps the dirtiest of all nuclear industry processes–and an even stupider idea economically. That’s because reprocessing is so expensive that mining and enriching uranium from scratch is still cheaper and always will be. Use of plutonium fuel would also exacerbate nuclear accidents, another trait that makes it undesirable, even for most of the nuclear industry.

For some years, NIRS ran a NIX MOX campaign, that was fairly successful at keeping the MOX concept in the dark corners of the priesthood. But the idea keeps coming out again and again for air, and thanks primarily to the determined efforts of some South Carolina Congressmembers–who can count only money and a few jobs and refuse to acknowledge both the short-term dangers to their state and the long-term environmental devastation a major MOX program inevitably would deliver–the government began construction of one of the pillars of a MOX facility at the Savannah River Site several years ago.

Almost since the first shovel of construction dirt was turned, the government–particularly the Obama administration–has tried to kill the project, knowing that it is both unnecessary and unaffordable. And yet, those South Carolina Congressmembers keep the money flowing in. Not enough to actually build the thing, but that’s not the point for them. The point for them is money, pure and simple. It’s the flaunting of pork barrel politics at its most basic level.

A new report, commissioned by the Department of Energy (where the MOX program still has some backers), was “released” Friday. You’ll see below why we put “released” in quotes. Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch) has reviewed the report–which finds that at current funding levels, the project can never be completed. Increasing the funding to meet the staggering costs to finish the job would be just about impossible.

Below is SRS Watch’s statement on the report.

Redacted DOE Plutonium Disposition Report Obtained, Gives Details of $47.5 Billion to $110.4 Billion Yet to be Spent on Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Boondoggle, Finished in 2059 to 2115

Aerospace Report Affirms that MOX Project at SRS Not Sustainable at Current Funding Level

Columbia, SC — A long-awaited report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on costs for two methods of plutonium disposition …read more

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