DOE Terminates Troubled MOX Project

After years of delay and controversy, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Oct. 10 formally terminated the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility project at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The termination note sets in motion a yearlong winding down of construction, an outcome long fought by South Carolina lawmakers and other backers of the project intended to turn surplus weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. (See ACT, September 2018.) Sharply rising costs, long construction delays, and doubt about the financial feasibility of the project led U.S. officials to favor a less costly alternative known as dilute and dispose. The NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency in the Energy Department, is proposing to adapt the MOX fuel facility into a site for producing plutonium cores, a plan that critics say is excessively costly compared to expanding current pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In a last-ditch appeal, a group of South Carolina officials, including the state’s two senators, met on Oct. 18 at the White House with President Donald Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, and other senior officials.—TERRY ATLAS