More time to build US MOX plant

17 November 2014

The construction licence for the partially-built mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been extended by ten years at the request of its builder.

MOX FFF 460 (Shaw Areva MOX Services)
An artist's impression of how the completed MFFF could appear (Image: Shaw Areva MOX Services)

The MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) is being built by Shaw Areva MOX services to fulfil the USA's commitments under a bilateral agreement with Russia, in which both countries have committed to dispose of some 34 tonnes of weapons-usable plutonium into MOX fuel for use in civilian nuclear reactors.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) signed an order on 13 November extending the completion deadline for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) by ten years, to March 2025. It issued the original ten-year construction licence in March 2005.

Shaw Areva MOX Services requested an extension to the licence in May due to various factors that had delayed its construction. Firstly, it said that MFFF is the first facility of this type to be licensed in the USA. The company also said that annual funding for its construction has been "less than the projected funding profile for several years." The delivery of components has also been delayed due to a shortage of qualified vendors, it added. A shortage of qualified construction workers has also delayed the project. Shaw Areva MOX also cited the two-year delay between the issuance of the original licence and the start of construction of the facility.

Last month the NRC published an environmental assessment that found the licence extension "would not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment because it does not involve any additional impacts or represent a significant change to those impacts described and analysed in the previous environmental report and final environmental impact statement."

The NRC noted that its order also reflects some administrative changes to the construction permit, including the change in the licensee's name to CB&I Areva MOX Services to reflect Chicago Bridge & Iron's acquisition of the Shaw Group last year.

Work started on the plantĀ in 2007, with a 2016 startup envisaged. Although based on France's Melox MOX facility, the MFFF project has presented many first-of-a-kind challenges and in 2012 the US Government Accountability Office suggested it would likely not start up before 2019 and cost at least $7.7 billion, far above original estimates of $4.9 billion.

The project has seen progressive cuts to its budget, with only $320 million requested for the facility in the 2014 budget reflecting a slowing down of construction and associated activities as the Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Nuclear Safety Administration embarked on a review of its plutonium disposition strategy. The project was placed on cold standby after being effectively cut out of the DOE's FY2015 budget request.

In its request for the licence extension, Shaw Areva MOX Services said that "substantial progress" has been made in the construction of the MFFF, with overall construction "in excess of 60% complete." However, it noted that key structures remaining to be constructed include the emergency generator building and the reagents processing building.

The company added, "Since the completion of construction is highly dependent upon annual congressional funding, the requested extension date bounds the actual time [it] will require to complete construction of the facility."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News