Graham places hold on Moniz nomination due to MOX concern

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has placed a hold on the nomination of MIT professor Ernest Moniz to become secretary of energy.

Graham’s move could prevent a full Senate vote on Moniz until he receives a firm commitment from the Obama nomination that a multi-billion-dollar mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina will be completed.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to approve Moniz April 18.

The MOX facility is being built at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. The project is significantly over budget. During his confirmation hearing, Moniz stopped short of guaranteeing Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., that the Department of Energy would complete the facility.

During a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Graham was emphatic that the MOX facility must be completed. The project had its genesis in a 1990s era treaty that the Clinton administration negotiated with the Russian government.

The South Carolina facility is meant to help the U.S. government dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

The project must go forward Graham told witnesses from Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Graham said he was concerned about the budget over-run and would meet with DOE and contractor about cutting program costs.

The Obama administration has proposed suspending MOX project work while a study is done. “We don’t need another study. We have studied this to death,” Graham said.

“It’s not on the table: It’s the pathway forward,” Graham said. “It’s not subject to debate,” Graham said, adding agreements have already been made “We are halfway through … we have an agreement with the Russians,” Graham said.

MOX fuel contains a mixture of approximately 95% uranium oxide and 5% plutonium oxide. Low enriched nuclear fuel that is normally used in U.S. commercial power plants only contains uranium oxide.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.