A federal program in South Carolina which involves taking surplus weapons-grade plutonium and processing it for use in commercial nuclear power reactors has come under heavy scrutiny in Washington because it has proven to be more costly than expected.
The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication program at the Savannah River Site (SRS) was designed to create the experimental form of fuel, but has plagued by costly delays that have added more than $2 billion and 10 years to the project. That’s made it a prime target for federal budget cuts at the Energy Department. Around 2,500 SRS employees began their reduced hours and furloughs this week, with most of those affected being involved in the MOX project.
Speaking to a group of reporters from his Columbia office Tuesday, 6th District Congressman James Clyburn said these cuts are due to cost overruns and have “absolutely nothing to do with sequestration” budget cuts that were triggered last month.
“There has been a controversy brewing for some time now about the federal government’s reaction to the cost overruns… and people are reacting to that,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn and his South Carolina congressional colleagues are concerned about the SRS employees who are affected by the cuts and have sent a letter to the White House expressing their concerns. Clyburn said he understands the entire program may be in jeopardy.
“The president is being strongly urged to eliminate the MOX fuel program altogether,” Clyburn said. Clyburn, who is considered both a strong congressional ally of the president and one of MOX’s defenders, said he’s had personal talks with the White House about the program in an attempt to keep the facility online.