A U.S. federal appeals court delivered a further blow Jan. 8 to efforts to salvage a U.S. program to build a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a district court injunction that prevented the U.S. Energy Department from pursuing its plans to end the controversial MOX fuel program. (See ACT, December 2018.)
Adding to the court ruling, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Feb. 8 cancellation of contractor CB&I AREVA MOX Services’ license to continue with the project.
Tom Clements, director of the nuclear facility monitoring group Savannah River Site Watch, hailed the “irreversible step” to cancel the license and applauded the decision to end the “wasteful, mismanaged project.”
At one time, the United States intended to dispose of surplus plutonium from its nuclear weapons program by using the material to manufacture fuel for civilian nuclear power plants. After years of ebbs and flows on that policy decision, the Energy Department decided in October 2018 to terminate plans for the fuel fabrication plant and pursue a “dilute and dispose” plan instead. Nearly $6 billion has been sunk into the canceled project, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated last year. The termination also resulted in more than 1,000 employee layoffs by the end of January, according to local news reports.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a MOX fuel project supporter, called the decision to terminate the program a “colossal mistake” and “shortsighted.”
There are now plans to turn the incomplete MOX fuel facility into a production center for plutonium pits, the fissile core of the first stage of a modern nuclear weapon, to implement the Trump administration’s directive to increase pit production.—SHERVIN TAHERAN