COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The price tag for a South Carolina project intended to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors has gone up by $2 billion, according to a report released Thursday.
The assertion by the General Accountability Office means that the overall cost for the National Nuclear Security Administration project is now estimated at just under $7 billion, with still several more years to go before the facility is expected to open.
In its annual report on high-risk government projects, the GAO mentioned the MOX project only briefly but also noted that it is doing a separate inquiry into the program.
"GAO is currently conducting work on NNSA's project to construct its Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site, to which NNSA recently added $2 billion to the project's cost estimate even as the facility nears completion," the GAO wrote.
The MOX plant, which would blend weapons-grade plutonium to create fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, would be the first of its kind in the United States, and officials say the project is more than half completed. The mammoth concrete-and- steel structure is being built at the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear bomb plant whose reactors have been shuttered for more than a decade.
The site sits along the South Carolina-Georgia border, and congressional representatives from both states have been vocal in their support of projects there including MOX. In addition to producing commercial reactor fuel, the plant is part of an international nonproliferation effort. Both the United States and Russia have committed to disposing of at least 34 metric tons apiece of weapons-grade plutonium — an amount, according to NNSA, that is enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads.