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House Panel Budgets Funds for Mixed-Oxide Plant Construction

A draft U.S. House spending bill would provide nearly $350 million to maintain construction of a divisive plutonium-disposition facility in South Carolina.

In approving its version of an annual spending bill earlier this week, the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee specified that the $345 million was to be used to continue building work of a mixed-oxide plant at the Savannah River Site and not to suspend work at the site, as the Obama administration prefers, the Augusta Chronicle reported on Thursday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates it would cost $30 billion to construct and operate the facility, which is meant to convert weapons-grade plutonium into MOX fuel for use in a reactor. The high projected cost of the effort factored heavily into the Energy Department's announcement earlier this year that it planned to mothball the facility. The government said it would search for another disposition solution for 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium that the United States is required by treaty to get rid of.

South Carolina lawmakers have pushed to continue construction of the plant and are optimistic about their prospects of succeeding, according to the Chronicle. The House of Representatives last month passed its yearly defense policy bill, which ordered the Energy Department to continue building the facility. Additionally, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed parallel legislation that would boost requested funding for the project by $145 million to $346 million.

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