MOX Project is Best Option for Nonproliferation and Budget Goals

MOX-fuelIf the United States is going to honor its international nonproliferation agreement with Russia, then the MOX Project is the best option based on time, money, security and environmental goals.

In 1998, the United States and Russia committed to each other and the world that each country would permanently convert 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium into non-weapons material. After extensive research and analysis of multiple options, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) chose to convert the plutonium into fuel for the American nuclear reactor fleet as a low cost fuel supply for decades of low carbon electricity production. The DOE affirmed its decision in the July 2012 Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, stating on page S-33: “The MOX Fuel Alternative is DOE’s Preferred Alternative for surplus plutonium disposition.”

The MOX Project—a first-of-its-kind U.S. nuclear facility being built to fulfill our agreement—is 60% complete, but now the Administration’s 2014 budget proposes to underfund the program and effectively abandon the project’s completion.

There are four options to address America’s nonproliferation agreement and manage our 34-ton stockpile of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. Each option should be evaluated on the criteria of time, money, security and environmental impact:

  1. Complete the MOX Project and permanently reduce the plutonium into nuclear fuel for U.S. power plants to generate electricity. At more than 60% complete and based on 30 years of successful European MOX production, the MOX Project has already progressed through many of the common large project hurdles and expenses of design revisions, project scope expansion, construction methods development, workforce training, and national supply chain development. America has already benefited from this investment in rebuilding our atrophied nuclear energy capabilities and knowledge, as seen in the 2,300 jobs created onsite in South Carolina, the extensive 40-state supply chain, and the ready workforce for the first new U.S. nuclear reactors in decades now under construction. American homes and businesses will further benefit from less expensive electricity generated by utilities buying and using the low cost MOX nuclear fuel, already confirmed as a safe, viable solution through a U.S. utility’s test evaluation. Since the weapons-grade plutonium permanently changes when used as MOX fuel, the security threat is eliminated while at the same time avoiding the ongoing expense of long-term storage and any environmental impact.
  2. Continue to stockpile the plutonium inside nested boundaries of fences, security forces, and hardened facilities. This expensive and higher risk approach fails to honor and satisfy our international obligation. The extracted weapons-grade plutonium remains stockpiled in small canisters, a perpetual potential terrorist target, significant budget expense, and potential environmental hazard. Sequestering this wasted resource abandons the benefit that could be derived by using this weapons material for peaceful purposes.
  3. Build a full-scale fast reactor to “burn up” the plutonium. Russia selected and began building this new nuclear reactor concept to fulfill its commitment, and has stated they will complete construction of the first reactor in a few years. If America were to abandon the 60% complete investment in the MOX Project and instead start over with considering a full-scale fast reactor, we would begin anew with decades of significant technical and cost implications for designing, licensing, and constructing an unproven concept, including the research, processing and resolution of an Environmental Impact Statement.
  4. Build a vitrification plant to embed the weapons-grade plutonium in glass for long-term nuclear waste storage. Strangely enough, the option that proposes to store and maintain all current and future weapons-grade plutonium in a massive long-term nuclear waste facility is the option advocated by some anti-nuclear environmentalists. Since this approach does not irreversibly destroy the plutonium, it fails to honor and satisfy our international obligation. As with the fast reactor concept, if we were to abandon our 60% complete investment in the MOX Project and instead start over, we would begin anew with decades of significant budget costs for designing, licensing, and constructing the vitrification plant, plus the unknown expenses, timeline and environmental assessment for constructing an as-yet unidentified geologic nuclear waste facility to receive the vitrification plant’s steady output of nuclear waste canisters containing unconverted, glass-embedded plutonium.

Of these four options, the solution is clear: Maintaining current funding and completing the MOX Project

  • continues the near-term fulfillment of America’s nonproliferation commitment;
  • energizes and delivers ongoing national employment and economic benefits;
  • avoids starting over with decades of legislative process and undefined costs for 
re-evaluating, selecting and developing an alternative option; and,
  • permanently eliminates a global security threat while generating low carbon electricity for American homes and businesses.

Achieving any one of these results would be significant for our country and a valuable return on budget investment.

MOX Project delivers on all of the above.