Costs Soar Almost $3 Billion at Plutonium Plant

Costs to build a South Carolina plant to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors have soared almost $3 billion, exceeding estimates by more than 50 percent, the Government Accountability Office said.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, told a House spending panel today that the Energy Department program will cost at least $7.7 billion, up from a previous forecast of $4.9 billion.

The plant built by a Shaw Areva MOX Services LLC consortium that includes Paris-based Areva SA also won’t open until November 2019, more than three years later than the October 2016 target, the GAO said in testimony to a House Appropriations Committee panel on energy and water development.

The mixed oxide, or MOX, plant is being built at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the U.S. for decades produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Tom Clements, southeastern campaign coordinator with Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said the project is too expensive to continue.

“They chose the most expensive, most complex and most complicated path and it’s simply not working,” Clements said in an interview. “Cost is simply going to kill this project.”

In 2000, the U.S. and Russia agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium and recycle it as fuel for nuclear reactors.