Most of the energy news recently has been focused on renewables, particularly solar and wind, which makes it particularly interesting when a different energy source makes the headlines. This article regarding the MOX (Mixed Oxide) fuel fabrication plant, currently under construction in South Carolina, addresses a relatively obscure offshoot of the topic of nuclear power, that of fuel reprocessing. What makes it triply interesting is that it has geopolitical ramifications with regard to a 2000 treaty between the US and Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium and also illustrates how incredibly complicated and expensive it is to do anything with the word “nuclear” in it.
Essentially, U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a one-year funding extension for the MOX factory that converts weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel, which is which is nearly 70 percent complete and employs about 1,800 workers. Construction of MOX, which began in 2007, was initially projected to cost $1.7 billion in 1999, but that was revised in 2013 to $7.7 billion and apparently is growing by the day to satisfy the treaty with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Two separate reports on the project estimate total costs in excess of $19 billion. The reports also differ on whether the facility is the best way to handle this material, or if it would be more cost effective to dilute the material and store it in a permanent repository. Of course the only nuclear waste disposal plan that has been pursued in the US is the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, which was killed by the Obama administration in 2011.Published by Our World of Energy