Rethink slows MOX construction

18 April 2013

Work on a facility to convert weapons plutonium into reactor fuel is to be slowed down as the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reconsiders its plutonium disposition strategy.

Installation work in MOX Process Building, June 2010 (NNSA) 460x307
Installation work in the MOX Process Building during 2010 (Image: NNSA)

The US Department of Energy's newly released budget request for 2014 calls for $320 million for the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF), being built at Savannah River in South Carolina by Shaw Areva MOX Services. This is down from $435 million in the current (2012) budget, reflecting the slowing down of the construction project and associated activities due to the strategy review.

Citing "cost and schedule pressures due to several factors," the budget request notes that the NNSA has tasked Shaw Areva MOX Services "to conduct a bottom-up review and update cost and schedule estimates." The US Government Accountability Office recently reported on forecasts of increases to total project costs and a likely delay in the startup of the facility from October 2016 to November 2019, although final costs would not be known until the review process is complete.

In its comments on the 2014 budget request, NNSA says it remains "firmly committed" to disposing of excess plutonium, but notes that the "budget environment has changed, and we have to make tough long-term decisions." It describes the MOX project as a "major, one-of-a-kind, complex civilian nuclear project that was started at a time when the US nuclear industry had atrophied and there hadn't been a major civilian nuclear project in several decades." Now, with resources curtailed by federal budgetary constraints and sequestration, the agency is required to "step back and review all available options."

NNSA told World Nuclear News that it was beginning discussions with its constructor counterparts to determine what activities could be most cost effectively slowed.

The MFFF is being built as America's way to carry out a bilateral deal with Russia that sees both countries dispose of 34 tonnes of weapons-usable plutonium. Construction began on the plant in 2007, and earlier this month Shaw Areva Mox Services announced the completion of the exterior structure of the 600,000 square foot (56,000 square metre) facility. There is currently no agreed customer for the eventual MOX fuel, while Russia has decided to incorporate its plutonium into fuel for fast-neutron reactors, rather than MOX for conventional units.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News