4/24 Update - South Carolina politicians chimed in regarding the latest life-cycle cost estimates for the MOX facility published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with Congressman Joe Wilson, all Republicans, issued a statement in which they call the latest estimate "difficult to understand." Together, the three politicians reiterate their commitment to the MOX project, as well as to "ensuring that taxpayer money is not squandered in the process." They make no mention of the much lower estimate for utilizing a different option for processing the plutonium material, though. Here's their full statement:

“We have grave concerns with The Aerospace Corporation’s recent assessment of the cost to construct and operate the MOX Facility. Having already spent $4.4 billion on the Project to achieve roughly sixty-five percent completion, we find it difficult to understand how completing and operating the Project will cost another $47.5 billion.

“A week before the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees consider appropriations for this facility – we are concerned with the Obama Administration’s intentions to fulfill our international obligations. MOX will serve as our country’s means by which to honor a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with the Russian Federation. At a time when tensions are high between our two nations, we cannot afford walk away from our side of the Agreement.

“In the very near future, we look forward to an in-depth briefing by the Aerospace Corporation as to how they came to their findings. Additionally, it is imperative the contractor (CB&I), DOE, and The Aerospace Corporation sit down and come to agreement on a final cost for the Project. This is essential to ensuring the Project is finished and that taxpayer money is not squandered in the process. We look forward to working with all parties to ensure MOX construction moves forward so the United States can honor its international nonproliferation obligations while simultaneously providing a path to move weapons material out of the Palmetto state.”

4/23, Original Post - According to a leaked summary of a still-secret Dept. of Energy report, the full, life-cycle costs for the problem-plaqued Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility—commonly referred to as MOX—could rise to between $47.5 billion to as much as $110.4 billion, not including the $4 billion already spent on the project. By comparison, earlier life-cycle cost estimates had been reported at about $30 billion. The facility is being constructed at the Savannah River Site, in Aiken, S.C.

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2014 aerial photo of the MOX project, at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. (Photo courtesy SRS Watchdog)

These latest estimates come via a DOE report on alternative approaches to plutonium disposition, the point of which was to examine other, potentially less-expensive methods for dealing with this radioactive material. For comparison, the DOE report—produced by The Aerospace Corp.—looked at other options for disposing of this material, including one method known as downblending. According to the summary—provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)—downblending would be significantly less expensive, with a life-cycle cost estimated at $17.5 billion

Originally, the agency had indicated that the report would be released in mid-April. However, DOE has since indicated that the report will remain for "official use only" until an alternate version is prepared for public release.

Project opponents—such as UCS and SRS Watch—siezed upon the latest reported cost increases to reiterate their calls to halt the project. In a statement issued April 22, UCS senior scientist Edwin Lyman noted: “Unfortunately, further details underlying these estimates will not be forthcoming until DOE authorizes release of a publicly available version of the report. But all indications are that the estimated cost of the MOX program will continue to expand dramatically. This program is simply not sustainable, and the sooner it is stopped, the less taxpayer money will be wasted."

ENR will report further on the DOE study when the agency makes the revised version available, expected later this year.