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U.S. Would Subsidize Fuel Sales From Imperiled Mixed-Oxide Plant: Official

If a mixed-oxide production plant in South Carolina is completed, the government would have to subsidize the sites's reactor fuel sales, an official says.

Anne Harrington, the National Nuclear Security Administration's deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, on Thursday said her agency's assessment is that the government would need to provide a subsidy to entice commercial buyers to purchase any so-called "MOX" fuel made from former bomb-grade plutonium at the Savannah River Site, the Post and Courier reported.

"Once a commitment is made, once there is material available, I believe that, yes, there would be a market," Harrington said in remarks during a Capitol Hill hearing. "Would we have to subsidize some of that? Our assessment is that we would, at least to something less than the current price of uranium."

Opponents of the MOX fuel fabrication facility being built in South Carolina have long pointed to the lack of any immediate buyers of the fuel as a reason to not proceed with the project. Harrington said she anticipated that the Tennessee Valley Authority would agree to buy some of the plutonium-based fuel.

The Energy Department wants to put the MOX project on hold. The department estimates that the total price tag of the facility would be approximately $30 billion. The expense of building the facility has risen to $7.7 billion alone, said Bruce Held, acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. However, a cost analysis is anticipated to push the price of construction up to $10 billion, he said in a separate congressional hearing.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told lawmakers that while the plutonium disposition plant could still be finished, four other options are being examined. Two of those alternatives would not result in any savings and some of the plans would necessitate going back to Russia and renegotiating a bilateral nonproliferation pact, the secretary said.

The U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement obligates both countries beginning in 2018 to each eliminate no less than 34 metric tons of processed plutonium.

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