Buckner: MOX is a bargain in terms of money and nonproliferation

05/01/2014 12:00 AM

04/30/2014 6:18 PM

As part of our nation’s commitment to energy independence in not only the United States but the rest of the world, the federal government has committed to the export of natural gas in the form of liquefied natural gas. The Department of Energy has approved the construction of seven terminals for exporting the gas to markets around the world, and applications are pending for another 20 facilities.

Each of these facilities — terminals and refrigeration plants — will cost upwards of $20 billion. That’s four times more than an LNG project cost a decade ago.

Think about it: The total cost of just those seven liquefied natural gas facilities will be about $140 billion.

That’s far more than the MOX project at the Savannah River Site, which is caught up in a debate over its cost. The standard objection to the cost of building the MOX plant is that it’s far above the original projection in 2007.

Some people underestimate the value of completing the MOX plant. Quite simply, it would achieve our No. 1 nonproliferation goal by rendering unusable 34 metric tons of plutonium for weapons purposes for the United States and Russia under a bilateral agreement. In addition, that plutonium can produce 300 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity worth more than $25 billion.

Perhaps the strongest argument against MOX is that no one knows what it will cost. The Energy Department pegs its life-cycle cost at $30 billion over 20 years. Even if you accept that number, the project is but one of several infrastructure initiatives, including, notably, the liquefied natural gas facilities, whose cost has risen.

This year alone, the oil and gas industry is on track to spend almost $100 billion on deepwater rigs, wells for producing shale gas and tight oil, pipelines, rail tank cars and other infrastructure to meet energy needs. By 2025, it will spend $1 trillion.

This is the kind of commitment needed to convert nuclear-weapons plutonium into fuel for electricity production, but at considerably less cost. Turning nuclear swords into plowshares is simply too important for policymakers to ignore. The Energy Department should let the MOX project proceed.

Mel Buckner

North Augusta

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