Whatever the reason, original estimates have proven to be significantly inaccurate. For instance, GAO reported that Shaw Areva's September 2012 proposal increased the number of labor hours needed to install each foot of approximately 85 miles of piping by up to 26% and that, "as facility designs became more definitive, the total amount of pipe increased by close to 33%."
A bigger problem may rest with the DOE's ability to convert the weapons-grade plutonium into reactor-grade MOX fuel. Officials with Shaw MOX Areva Services, DOE and others associated with the project repeatedly have stated that the process for converting this plutonium material into MOX fuel already has been successfully employed in Europe. But Clements calls that a "misinformation campaign."
"MOX made from weapons-grade plutonium has never been used on a commercial basis," he says. Duke Energy previously agreed to test MOX at its Catawba Nuclear Station powerplant in York County, S.C. But after testing the material, in 2008, the utility told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that using MOX would necessitate "a redesign of the Catawba Unit 1 Cycle 18 core design." Later that year, Duke opted out of an agreement to use MOX. DOE has yet to secure another utility to use the fuel, though it is reportedly seeking to use MOX at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Alabama. Additionally, weapons-grade MOX is not approved by the NRC and would require years of testing before use, says Clements.
Despite the remaining hurdles, South Carolina politicians are fighting to keep MOX alive, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) vowing that this "injustice" by the Obama administration "cannot stand." The state's lawsuit, among other things, seeks to prevent DOE from using FY14 funds, approved for construction, for purposes of placing it in cold standby. If the lawsuit is unsuccessful in halting the administration's drive to halt the project, construction could continue until FY15.
Says Clements, "If they do put it on cold standby and lay off all the employees and stop buying equipment, it's going to be a serious blow to the project."