By Danielle Brian
The beleaguered Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) program at the Savannah River Site was targeted for possible cancellation last fall, but ongoing discussions resulted in a recent lifeline offered by a top Department of Energy official, which appears to have been accepted by the White House.
Under a plan brokered by Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, the MOX facility would see its funding cut by 75 percent -- rather than being eliminated entirely -- according to sources who have seen parts of the recently released White House Office of Management and Budget “Passback” budget document being circulated on Capitol Hill. The Department of Defense, the State Department, and the DOE had tentatively agreed to zero-out the program, which is designed to convert weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel for U.S. commercial nuclear reactors. The MOX program is 300 percent over budget, a decade behind schedule, and has sparked zero interest from potential customers.
The funding cut will still result in a savings of approximately $3 billion over five years from planned spending. Poneman’s plan provides more than a billion dollars in funding over the next five years to finish basic construction such as putting a roof on the building, as well as to provide funds to explore alternatives for the ongoing problem of plutonium disposition. Given that the roof is scheduled to be completed next month, and there is no other current mission for the building, it is unclear what the additional funding would accomplish.
On February 5, the Project On Government Oversight and Taxpayers for Common Sense wrote to President Obama that “the program should be cut entirely. All federal agencies need to halt wasteful spending in the current fiscal environment, and MOX is a prime candidate.”
In addition, sources who have reviewed parts of the budget Passback say the administration also plans to move the entire B83 nuclear bomb program into reserve, and that the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 will get a billion-dollar boost in funding.