NRC Licensing Board Rebuffs Challenge to Shaw Areva MOX Services License to Operate South Carolina MOX Facility Despite Security Risks

Statement by Edwin Lyman, Union Of Concerned Scientists

Published Feb 28, 2014

WASHINGTON (February 27, 2014)— After a legal proceeding lasting more than three years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board today announced that it has rejected a challenge to Energy Department contractor Shaw Areva MOX Services’ license to operate the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication facility (MFFF) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. It is now up to NRC commissioners to make the final decision to grant the company the license.

Below is a statement by Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists Global Security Program.

“Although we have not yet seen the details of this initial decision, which is not yet public, we are deeply disappointed and frustrated by this outcome. After years of thorough scrutiny of the applicant’s plan for keeping track of the location and quantity of weapon-usable plutonium in this facility, we are convinced that the plan is deeply deficient and the applicant is simply incapable of securing and accounting for this incredibly dangerous material. The initial decision to grant this facility an operating license, allowing it to take possession of at least 34 metric tons of U.S. surplus plutonium, is reckless and will increase the risk that terrorists will be able to acquire enough plutonium to build a nuclear bomb without detection.

“The purpose of the MFFF, which is currently under construction, is to convert plutonium no longer needed for nuclear weapons into a type of nuclear fuel, called MOX, which can be used in operating nuclear power plants. The MOX program, however, has major problems. The estimate for the MFFF’s construction cost, for example, has ballooned from $4.8 billion to $7.7 billion, and the total life cycle cost of the program is now estimated at $30 billion. And even if the plant is built, no U.S. utility has committed to take the fuel, which is far more expensive and troublesome too use than conventional uranium fuel. As a result, the Energy Department is seriously reevaluating whether the program should go forward at all.

“In a report released earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited the cost and schedule estimates of the contractor, MOX Services, and concluded that it ‘did not meet all best practices in GAO’s guides for preparing high-quality, reliable cost and schedule estimates. Not meeting these best practices increased the risk of further cost estimates and delays for the projects….’

“The Energy Department should pull the plug on this wasteful and dangerous program before it does any more damage to our economy and security.”