Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues [March 28, 2014]   [open pdf - 285KB]

"The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) in South Carolina has been a key component of the current U.S. strategy for disposing of surplus weapons plutonium from the Cold War. That strategy called for the surplus plutonium, in oxide form, to be blended with uranium oxide to make mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for U.S. commercial nuclear reactors. The plutonium in MOX fuel would be mostly destroyed in the reactors by fission (splitting into other isotopes). At the same time, isotopes of plutonium undesirable for weapons would be created, along with highly radioactive fission products. As a result, after several years in a reactor, spent MOX fuel would have less total plutonium than when it was freshly loaded, and the remaining plutonium would be degraded for weapons purposes. Moreover, the fission products would make the material difficult to handle, in case of future attempts to use the plutonium. Because of sharply rising cost estimates for the MOX project, the Obama Administration is proposing to place MFFF in 'cold standby' and study other plutonium disposition options. The federal plutonium disposition program is run by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Department of Energy (DOE). NNSA estimated in 2002 that MFFF would cost about $1 billion to design and build. DOE said in its budget justification for FY2014 that the MFFF contractor had estimated the project's total construction cost would rise to $7.78 billion, and that construction would not be completed until November 2019. DOE's FY2015 budget justification said the life-cycle cost estimate for the MOX program had risen to $30 billion."

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CRS Report for Congress, R43125
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