The National Nuclear Security Administration on Oct. 10 issued a termination notice to the contractor building the schedule- and budget-busting MOX project in South Carolina, likely bringing construction to a final halt. The agency terminated its contract with CB&I Areva MOX Services a day after a federal court overturned an injunction that had been preventing NNSA from halting the project. The action gives the contractor 30 days to provide a termination plan.
NNSA’s notice was clear: “This notice terminates the contract in its entirety, and is effective immediately.” The Aiken Standard reported that MOX Services sent a letter to workers informing them of the termination.
The notice calls for the winding down of construction operations and the preserving of existing structures and the overall construction site. Additionally, the NNSA notes that it is “committed to ensuring that the dedicated and skilled workforce on this project is fully supported as we proceed with this action.” The action would provide 60-days notice to workers affected by the layoffs.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) were reportedly planning to meet with President Trump next week to discuss the MOX project.
Nevertheless, Tom Clements of Savannah River Site Watch, a long-time critic of the project, stated: “This letter makes it abundantly clear – the MOX boondoggle is finally over and done with.”
This latest attempt by DOE to halt the project began May 10, when Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that the agency was abandoning MOX in favor of another method of plutonium disposition known as “dilute and dispose.” This proposed approach involves blending plutonium with other materials and then storing it at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
The state of South Carolina fought the move, arguing that because dilute-and-dispose was not yet proven as a viable approach, switching to that method risks leaving 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium sitting at Savannah River Site with no way out of the state.
Construction of the facility commenced in August 2007, with completion targeted for 2016. Originally intended to convert 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel, MOX was to fulfill the United States’ plutonium disposal requirements per an agreement with Russia. But in October 2016, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was suspending its participation in the treaty.
Also in 2016, DOE estimated construction would complete in 2048, at a nearly $17.2-billion final price tag. The contractor hotly disputed that estimate, stating instead that it could complete construction by 2029, at a total project cost of about $10 billion.
An NNSA presentation from January 2018 estimated that the switch to dilute-and-dispose would cost between $1.4 billion to $5.4 billion for “refurbishing and repurposing facilities at the Savannah River Site,” such as the unfinished MOX structure, with a “schedule range” of between FY 2024-2031.