The federal government plans to continue funding a plutonium fuel factory at the Savannah River Site with an allocation of $340 million, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, said Wednesday.
The plant’s long-term future remains in jeopardy because it is years behind schedule and over budget. But plant supporter Graham said the funding for the mixed oxide fuel factory is significant as he continues to fight for the project’s completion. This year’s federal appropriations bill includes the $340 million for MOX.
“This is a big, big win for the Savannah River Site,” Graham said in a statement Wednesday. “There has been a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in the community about the program’s future, particularly after the Obama Administration tried to cancel the program, which would have left South Carolina stuck with several tons of weapons grade plutonium. This funding will, hopefully, help alleviate some of those concerns.”
The MOX plant is being built to neutralize deadly plutonium stockpiled at SRS from other nuclear weapons complexes around the country. Gov. Nikki Haley called this week for the federal government to process the plutonium, as promised, or begin removing the material to comply with a 2003 federal law.
Tom Clements, one of the MOX plant’s chief opponents in South Carolina, said the funding Graham announced isn’t nearly enough to complete the project. The entire project has cost $5 billion already, and that price tag could double.
“This is nothing to crow about,’’ Clements said, noting that Graham “is correct in that it is going to keep the project alive. But it is postponing the inevitable. They don’t have the money.’’
Opponents of the MOX plant say it is too expensive and dangerous, particularly when the Department of Energy has no customers for the nuclear fuel. They favor other ways to handle the excess plutonium, including shipping some of the material to New Mexico for disposal. The U.S. Department of Energy has signaled it wants to cancel the project, although no final decision has been made.