Termination of MOX Construction By Esme Rodehaver

On February 8, 2019, the The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission terminated the construction authorization for the plutonium fuel (MOX) project at the Savannah River Site. According to Tom Clements, the director of the watchdog group Savannah River Site Watch, this means that we can now consider this project “dead.”

MOX (which stands for Mixed Oxide Fuel) is converted from nuclear weapons-grade plutonium and used for civilian nuclear power generation. The construction for the MOX fabrication facility at SRS was issued in 2005 and construction officially began in 2007. The license was initially issued to 2015, but due to significant setbacks, it was extended to 2025 in 2014. The project fell behind schedule and over-budget, and the DOE finally ordered construction activities to be terminated in October 2018. For the DOE, this means that there is a vacant facility at the SRS site which they plan to repurpose. For the nearby community in Aiken County, South Carolina, this has meant the loss of more than 1,000 jobs.

Because the license to possess special nuclear material was never granted, no radioactive material had been brought onto the site and it does not currently represent a public safety hazard. While the MOX project is unlikely to be revived, the DOE is now looking to convert the MOX plant to produce plutonium pits (triggers) for nuclear weapons. Following a Congress order in 2015 which ordered expanded pit production to evolve nuclear weapons, the DOE intends to produce 50 pits per year at SRS.

According to Colin Demarest of the Aiken Standard, repurposing the MOX mission for pit production could cost between $1.4 billion and $5.4 billion.
Georgia WAND is wary of the DOE’s plan to use the former MOX plant for plutonium pit production. As Tom Clemons of SRS Watch points out, “there remain lingering design and construction problems which remain unresolved due to the abrupt halt to construction and they pose challenges to any facility reuse […] NNSA has so far failed to make any public case that the MOX design and construction problems can be resolved in order that dangerous weapon-grade plutonium can be safely handled.” In addition to these questions of safety, are are also concerned about the environmental impacts and the exorbitant expense associated with expanding pit production.

Although the DOE promises hundreds of new jobs with the pit production mission, Georgia WAND questions the quality and safety of the positions that will available to most Aiken County community members.
For more information please see the following links:

SRS Watch:http://www.srswatch.org/uploads/2/7/5/8/27584045/srs_watch_on_license_termination_feb_11_2019.pdf
News articles:https://www.wrdw.com/content/news/Uncertainty-for-SRS-employees-following-MOX-ruling–497293671.html
https://www.aikenstandard.com/news/hundreds-more-mox-workers-issued-layoff-notices-at-end-of/article_879e2758-2973-11e9-93fb-3fc28a858e31.html
https://www.aikenstandard.com/news/nnsa-executive-repurposing-mox-for-pit-production-is-a-major/article_78c388b0-2ef8-11e9-a9d8-a74b7f29542b.html/

MOX termination documents:
– https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML18324A737
– https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML18324A745
– https://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML18318A135

For more info contact Janie Hill-Scott at janie@georgiawand.org.