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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham criticizes MOX developments, plutonium inaction at hearing

May 24, 2018 GMT

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s Republican heavyweight, ripped into the U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday, comparing the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility fiasco to the political mire President Donald Trump promised to drain.

“Nobody’s been fired. Somebody needs to be held accountable for starting programs like this, signing deals with the Russians and saying, ‘Oh, never mind,’ when you get 70 percent of it built,” Graham told a U.S. Senate appropriations committee. “If you want to talk about the swamp, this is the swamp.”

MOX, a roughly 70-percent complete facility at the Savannah River Site, was designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. It’s been a work-in-progress for more than a decade now, ballooning past its initial $4.8 billion budget.

The facility is the product of the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, a pact between the U.S. and Russia that required each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium.

That’s enough stockpile plutonium to create thousands of nuclear weapons respectively.

“I advocated for a mission that I thought was good for the world, the country and the state of South Carolina,” Graham said of his longstanding, and often ardent, MOX support. “In good faith, we took weapons-grade plutonium with an understanding what would happen to it. And that agreement is being broken, that promise no longer exists.”

On May 10, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry cut down MOX, submitting a waiver to congressional defense committees that promised he had a better – cheaper and quicker, essentially – alternative that would still get plutonium out of the state.

On May 14, a partial stop work order was issued for MOX. The order put a freeze on new hires, new procurements and new construction, among other things.

The MOX-killing alternative, dilute-and-dispose, is the target of heavy South Carolina criticism.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has called dilute-and-dispose nonsensical and has described a MOX shutdown as a “bad error,” a “very unwise thing” and a “travesty.”

On Thursday, Graham, again, said dilute-and-dispose is destined for failure, comparing the process to previous DOE missteps: “It will not work.”

Dilute-and-dispose involves mixing plutonium with inert material for burial at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, took Graham’s side during the hearing, succinctly condemning Perry’s preferred disposition method.

“MOX, as Sen. Graham has described, is a very difficult issue, but DOE does not have a solid plan for what it’s doing,” Udall said.

The New Mexico senator said he was “very concerned” about DOE’s political motivations or considerations.

“WIPP was not envisioned to take high-level waste or weapons-grade plutonium,” Udall said. “So far, DOE has done nothing to secure New Mexico’s support, besides asking for a new permit that will be decided by the next governor.”

Graham concluded his statements – after Udall wrapped up – by summarizing recent multi-million-dollar MOX appropriations.

“I don’t know what to do other than just tell you, as honestly as I can, this is a cluster,” Graham said. “And somebody needs to understand what you’re about to do here.”