The Dept. of Energy's proposal to put a 60%-complete mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) facility in Aiken, S.C., on "cold standby" has run into criticism from key senators.

The plant, which would convert 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium into MOX fuel, could cost more than $7 billion to build, plus $30 billion in life-cycle expenses, DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz told a Senate appropriations subcommittee on April 9. Citing "extremely tight budgets," DOE put the project on hold while it evaluates alternatives, he noted.

Lawmakers blasted DOE for potentially breaking a nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Congress already has appropriated millions of dollars for the project. He also said there is no other plan to dispose of the plutonium.

Subcommittee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the MOX cuts "unacceptable" and said DOE "should anticipate some changes" as its appropriations bill proceeds. Moniz said the standby decision doesn't end the project.