News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014
AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- At the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, President David Jameson is searching for answers
"I tell you, this really caught us by surprise yesterday," he says.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama released his budget. The budget calls for placing the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS on "cold stand-by."
Billions of dollars have gone into the MOX project. The goal of the project is to turn weapon-grade plutonium into safer nuclear fuel for commercial reactors. The first of its kind facility in the United States was born out of a 2000 agreement with Russia. The agreement requires both United States and Russia to dispose of 68 metric tons of plutonium collectively, which is sufficient for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.
"I've been in contact with the Department of Energy in Washington at headquarters," says Jameson. "They, basically, were playing the company line of, 'This is what's going to happen, and it's done.'"
The massive project was expected to employ thousands, but construction delays and billions of dollars of cost overruns made the Department of Energy look for a cheaper, quicker alternative.
"[The National Nuclear Security Administration] is evaluating alternative plutonium disposition technologies to MOX that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost effectively," the Department of Energy's proposed budget reads.
In a press conference, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz estimates the project's life-cycle cost would be upwards of $30 billion.
"We have a taskforce that has been working on this very hard for the last nine months. They are continuing to work with the contractors to see if we can find some other way of doing this to get a substantial cost reduction on the MOX path, but we are continuing to look at other pathways as well...I want to emphasize, we are committed to disposition of those 34 metric tons plutonium," said Sec. Moniz.
After speaking to the Aiken Republican Club luncheon on Wednesday, Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) addressed the concerns about the MOX budget.
"[Moniz] did not say MOX was stopped," says Gov. Haley. "He said MOX was stalled for now."
Haley assured members of the media that she's been in contact with Moniz.
"And I will keep going back to D.C. as much as we need to to let him know we're not going away. I have invited him to South Carolina and asked him to come. He is going to come," she says.
Haley says, like most things managed by the federal government, MOX is too expensive. However, Haley says the price can possibly go down.
"Give us something to work with, because it's not that we're not willing to help it be more efficient or more effective," she says. "We just need to know what it is that they want."
Meanwhile, Jameson fears lay-offs. He also fears that the $4 billion half-complete project could soon be collecting dust.
"You know, what are you going to do with all these things? It just seems like it just adds to the waste for them to walk away from a project like this," he says.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the project, tells News 12 that its working with the contractor, Shaw Areva MOX Services, to develop a "cold stand-by" implementation plan.
Sources close to the situation tell News 12 that lay-offs are possible. Sources believe there's enough congressional support to get MOX back on track eventually, but losing workers during the suspension period could be problematic.