The Dept. of Energy continued its campaign to halt construction of the multibillion-dollar Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project, often referred to as MOX, this time by pointing out construction errors and defects during a Sept. 8 media tour of the Savannah River Site facility. DOE officials claimed construction was $12 billion over budget and could be decades from completion, according to media reports.

The comments are in line with a DOE-sanctioned report, published in 2015, that estimated 2043 as the earliest date for project completion. Project contractor CB&I Areva MOX Services— which began construction in 2007, with an original 2016 completion date—has protested that report’s schedule estimates. 

The facility, originally estimated to cost $4 billion, was intended to fulfill the terms of an agreement between the U.S. and Russia involving the disposal of stockpiled weapons-grade plutonium.

Earlier this year, DOE’s 2017 budget request to Congress zeroed out MOX funding in favor of an alternative method of plutonium disposition, known as downblending. The agency argues the switch would enable it “to begin and complete targeted disposal many years sooner and at far less cost than with MOX”—a point that John MacWilliams, DOE deputy secretary, reiterated to reporters attending the tour, the Augusta Chronicle reported.

Tom Clements, director of watchdog group Savannah River Site Watch, Aiken, S.C., was surprised by DOE’s citing of problem construction during the recent media tour.

“It appears that DOE wanted to document that daunting construction and design challenges face the project,” Clements said via email to ENR. “As such problems may mean that completion of the MOX project is in doubt, it is incumbent on DOE to publicly reveal details of the design and construction problems.”

Clements also called for investigations into “not only the construction and design problems but also possible waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.”