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Mox plutonium reprocessing plant has been a huge waste of U.S. taxpayers’ money

Another SC nuclear boondoggle could soon meet its end. This time it’s $7B in taxpayer money wasted, Post and Courier By Andrew Brown abrown@postandcourier.com , – May 20, 2018 

      COLUMBIA — It’s a familiar story in South Carolina: Nuclear contractors fail to produce a reliable schedule, start construction with just a fraction of design finished, and let pipes and other material corrode in storage under the watch of government agencies.

The abandonment of two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station generated headlines and riled state lawmakers since last summer, but 90 miles south, a similar scenario played out at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

The federal government has likely squandered more than $7 billion as they watched a project fall decades behind schedule and its final cost increase by 12 times the initial estimates. And, like V.C. Summer, the plug is being pulled. The parallels don’t end there: The debacles also shared two of the same contractors.

  • The Savannah River project has not faced the same anger and scrutiny as the abandonment of the two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County — likely because the inflated cost of the complex project is being distributed to federal taxpayers across the country instead of 1.6 million electric customers in South Carolina.

    For more than a decade, the U.S. Department of Energy and its private contractors have tried to build the plant to turn Cold War-era nuclear weapons into fuel that could be used in nuclear power plants. It’s known as MOX, short for mixed oxide fuel fabrication.

    The project became a federal priority around the turn of the century, and was intended to be a cornerstone of the United States’ effort to reduce its aging stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

    But for more than four years, it has been on the federal chopping block. In federal studies and congressional testimony reviewed by The Post and Courier, government officials laid out a long list of problems with the contractors and the project in general. Two presidential administrations have tried to put an end to the costly undertaking.

    Each time, however, South Carolina’s powerful congressional delegation revived the project, siding with the contractors who disputed the findings of independent consultants and federal agencies.

    Now, it may be too late. Congress gave U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry the power in March to put an end to the 11-year construction effort, and the federal agency is already taking action.

    Earlier this month, President Donald Trump’s administration released an alternative proposal to deal with the 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium that was set to be processed at the site. They estimated it will cost less than half of what it would take to finish the MOX facility and turn the plutonium into commercial fuel.

    The new plan calls for mixing the plutonium with another material, not revealed by the federal government, and storing it below the New Mexico desert. Buried with it could be the second major nuclear project to be cancelled in South Carolina in less than a year.

    ……..the companies have sunk billions into the facility that has risen out of the surrounding pines. But many of the circumstances that drove federal officials to approve the project, including the deal with Russia, have changed.So, too, have the projections for the final cost of the facility. It now stands at roughly $17 billion.

    A ‘horror story’ for taxpayers? 

    U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper took direct aim as he opened a congressional oversight hearing in the fall of 2015.

    “I am worried that, as we enter the month of October and head toward Halloween, that really the subject of this hearing is a horror story for the American taxpayer,” said Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee.

    By that time, the contractors’ forecasted price tag for the facility had jumped by more than six times the estimates from 2002. The Department of Energy estimated the cost to be even higher, and President Barack Obama’s administration was pushing to end construction altogether.

  • …..John MacWilliams, an Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy, told the federal lawmakers one of the biggest problems was that construction began with only 20 to 25 percent of the design for the MOX facility complete.

    “Immature design is one of the biggest problems we face,” said MacWilliams, who led a special team that reviewed the project’s management.

    MacWilliams also reported that around a quarter of the rebar, pipes, electrical wiring and other material that was initially installed had to later be torn back out and replaced — slowing construction and increasing the cost of labor.

    Like V.C. Summer, federal officials reported materials being ruined because parts were ordered years before they were ever needed. The contractors reportedly didn’t have a “resource loaded” schedule that tied together supplies and construction work. Fifty percent of the piping that was manufactured as of 2016 was unusable due to corrosion and design changes, a report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found. “This pattern of early procurement is systemic,” the report said.

    “I think it’s clear that although there is blame to go around on all sides the contractors from the very beginning misled the Department and for that matter the U.S. government,” MacWilliams told The Post and Courier last week.

  • ……..Existing facilities at Savannah River are already capable of diluting the plutonium, but the federal government also wants to install new equipment to speed up the work that’s expected to continue for the next three decades. The full price tag for the process, according to a new Department of Energy analysis, could equal another $19.9 billion.

    By comparison, federal officials say it would take another $48 billion to complete the construction of the MOX facility, as well as finish the work of turning the plutonium into fuel.

    “The MOX project is not viable and needs to be terminated,” said Tom Clements, an advocate that runs Savannah River Site Watch, who has monitored the project for years. “It’s a huge waste of money.”……https://www.postandcourier.com/business/another-sc-nuclear-boondoggle-could-soon-meet-its-end-this/article_e7096912-590a-11e8-b88a-a76a2bf0e36e.html

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May 22, 2018 - Posted by | reprocessing, USA

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