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MOX project at Savannah Rive Site ends with letter from Energy Secretary

SAVANNAH RIVER SITE, S.C. (WJBF) — Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, has officially ended the MOX project at Savannah River Site.  Perry, executed a waiver on May 10th ending support for the mixed oxide use facility.  The authority to take such action by Perry was granted through the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018.

In the letter, Perry states the Department of Energy is committed to removing plutonium from South Carolina intended to be disposed of in the MOX facility.  The intention is for future plutonium waste to be disposed of by what is called a “dilute and dispose” approach.

Both the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have agreed with the Secretary of Energy on finding an alternative way to dispose of plutonium besides MOX that would still meet the Department of Defense 80 pit per year requirement.   The Savannah River Site would produce 50 pits while 30 other pits would be maximized at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.  That statement in its entirety can be found here

According to national media outlets, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has requested a personal meeting with President Donald Trump in order to preserve the MOX project at SRS.  The South Carolina Congressional Delegation issued the following statement regarding the decision:

South Carolina Congressional Delegation Statement on DOE Decision to Abandon MOX Program

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), and U.S. Representatives Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina), Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina), Tom Rice (R-South Carolina), Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina), and Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) today issued a statement denouncing the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision to abandon the MOX program.

“We are extremely disappointed to hear the Department of Energy plans to abandon the MOX program.  The federal government has spent billions of dollars constructing the MOX facility at Savannah River Site (SRS) to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium.  The facility is now more than halfway complete.     

“For years, DOE studied the best method to dispose of plutonium.  After looking at over 40 options, the MOX process was chosen over other alternatives and was the method agreed to with the Russians in the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.  With DOE’s decision, the MOX program – which is one of the most important non-proliferation programs in the history of the world – is being abandoned without any clear path forward.

“DOE says it now wants to pursue ‘dilute and dispose’ but that plan was already considered and rejected.  DOE plans to press ahead even though ‘dilute and dispose’ has not been fully vetted.  This could lead to the permanent orphaning of at least 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium, enough for thousands of warheads.

“And if that was not enough, DOE has done almost nothing to consult with New Mexico – the state which would receive this material – and the political leadership in New Mexico has already expressed great concern about this change in course.  Finally, the legal challenges to move from MOX in South Carolina to ‘dilute and dispose’ in New Mexico will be enormous.  By any fair assessment the viability and chance of success with dilute and dispose are, at best, questionable. 

“The Department of Energy’s reputation for the handling and oversight of large-scale projects like MOX were considered suspect.  But given what can only be called a debacle, DOE is going to be challenged like never before.  We plan to hold DOE accountable for this haphazard decision and will press for oversight to ensure taxpayers aren’t left holding the bag for DOE’s mistakes. 

“Finally, DOE has proposed reconfiguring the current MOX facility so that it can be used to produce plutonium pits.  While we support the opportunity for any new mission at SRS, we are concerned DOE will encounter a skeptical Congress and American public on any proposal they put forward.

“We will continue to work closely with Governor Henry McMaster to protect the interests of the local community, the state of South Carolina, and the American taxpayer.”

Georgia Congressman, Rick Allen has also weighed in on the issue saying,  "I still believe that MOX is the most viable way forward to dispose of our weapons-grade plutonium. While I am disappointed that the Department of Energy made the decision to pursue the ‘dilute and dispose’ method, I am encouraged by their decision to begin producing plutonium pits at Savannah River Site. Plutonium pit production is critical to our national security, and will be an enduring mission for years to come.”

To view the letter from Secretary Rick Perry obtained by srswatch.org please click here.  For a look back at Secretary Perry’s visit earlier this year to SRS you can click here.


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