Federal regulators have approved a 10-year extension for an experimental facility under construction in Aiken County.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week granted the extension for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX), which will eventually convert material from nuclear warheads into commercial nuclear reactor fuel when completed. The extension allows construction at the Savannah River Site to last until 2025, if necessary, although the project’s contractor insists it does not need that much time.
The contractor building the project CB&I Areva MOX Services had cited lengthy delays, which it partially blamed on reduced funding from the Energy Department, in seeking the extension. The MOX project was originally estimated at $1.4 billion in 2004 and predicted to be complete by 2007. However, the Energy Department now lists a price tag of at least $7.7 billion (although it is expected to go higher) and an estimated completion date sometime in late 2019. The current construction permit would have expired next year.
The project is part of an agreement with Russia to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel. But the steadily increasing price tag led the Energy Department to look into alternative plans for disposing of the plutonium. The White House even considered a one-year halt in construction this upcoming fiscal year, but relented after pressure and a threatened lawsuit from South Carolina leaders.
In a release, NRC leaders said an assessment found no significant environmental impact from the longer timeline. The commission said MOX leaders had shown “good cause” for the later deadline.