Nuclear critic says TVA should pull out of MOX program

Friends of the Earth (FOE) Southeastern nuclear campaign coordinator Tom Clements told the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors Aug. 22 that the federal utility should withdraw from a project that would test surplus weapons material as fuel in commercial power reactors.

“The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) efforts to carry out a program to turn surplus weapons plutonium into experimental fuel called mixed oxide (MOX) continues to be embroiled in mismanagement and massive over-spending and is at risk of being terminated by DOE itself,” Clements said in his prepared remarks.

“The fall-out from the crisis is impacting the Tennessee Valley Authority’s consideration of use of plutonium (MOX) fuel and should inform TVA’s withdrawal from the MOX program,” Clements said.

The FOE official said the DOE MOX program is beset by a number of problems, including cost overruns, scheduling delays and political challenges.

One such political issue came to light earlier this year when a lawmaker from South Carolina claimed the Obama administration was waffling on its support for a MOX fuel fabrication facility planned in that state.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., temporarily placed a hold on the nomination of MIT professor Ernest Moniz to become secretary of energy in an effort to assure the administration stands behind plans for a South Carolina MOX plant.

Clements said release of the final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on plutonium disposition and MOX use has been postponed monthly since January 2013 and now appears indefinitely postponed.

DOE said in April that the cost of the construction of the MOX plant now under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina had soared to $7.7bn, up dramatically from an estimate of $4.9bn in 2008.

The full U.S. House of Representatives in July 2013 cut MOX construction funding in Fiscal Year 2014 to $320m, or “far below what is needed to sustain the program,” Clements said. “This amount of funding places the program on a shut-down track and has resulted in over 500 workers being notified of layoffs before October 1,” Clements said.

“TVA would be wise to simply inform DOE that it has no further interest in any level of participation in the MOX program and that it will not allow DOE to twist its arm to participate in the mismanaged project. TVA stands to gain little and risk a lot by allowing testing and use of MOX fuel in the aging Browns Ferry and Sequoyah reactors.  TVA must simply say “no” to further involvement in DOE’s MOX boondoggle,” Clements said.

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.