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South Carolina Mixed-Oxide Nuclear Plant Said to Cost Billions More

The final price tag of a mixed-oxide nuclear fuel facility being built in South Carolina may be as high as $30 billion, an unreleased U.S. study concludes.

Unidentified government officials and industry insiders who were briefed on the Energy Department study's findings told the Center for Public Integrity the projected cost growth for the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant has led the Obama administration to favor pursuing alternatives for disposing of the 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that the Savannah River site was intended to handle.

The probable final expense of the controversial MOX plant would likely be between $25 billion and $30 billion, sources said in the Friday article.

Numerous officials are starting to think that "it's time for a shifting of gears," said an administration official.

However, because no other fully developed option has emerged for dealing with the Russian-origin plutonium, the Obama administration will probably seek fiscal 2015 funds to continue building the mixed-oxide plant. Officials said the sought-after funding likely will be less than the roughly $343 million assigned for the project in the current fiscal year. A total of $4 billion has already been spent on construction.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which is overseeing construction of the fuel-fabrication plant, declined to comment on the report.

The Energy Department reportedly is involved in drawn-out secret negotiations with Shaw Areva MOX Services, which is in charge of constructing and operating the plant. The department's goal is to modify the contract with the European consortium so that company profits are lowered and more of the burden of cost overruns is shifted onto Shaw Areva's shoulders.

However, talks are at an impasse, so the government is now examining alternatives for disposing of the surplus plutonium, sources told the center.

Russian officials have suggested in private diplomatic discussions that they would be open to a plan that converts the plutonium metal into a more proliferation-resistant powder form, which could then be entombed deep underground, an official said. Such a plan could take half a decade to complete and cost $6 billion, an unnamed source projected in the article.

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