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Hanford Not Only Nuclear Site Affected by 2015 Budget — Savannah River to Lose Major Project

Savannah River  Nuclear site
(US State Department – state.gov)

While we struggle with the ups and downs of the federal cleanup budget at Hanford, across the country a one-of-a-kind nuclear fuel project appears to be shelved.

AREVA, the French nuclear power company, announced Tuesday President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget will all but kill a revolutionary project to convert nuclear weapons-grade plutonium into energy-generation fuel. This same budget also has less money allocated for Hanford. $2.1 billion was allocated for Hanford cleanup — tens of millions less than what was felt to be needed by local officials.

AREVA was building the Mixed Oxide project (MOX) at the Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina. Savannah River was created in 1950, much the same way as Hanford at the early stages of World War II. In 1998-2000, the site was selected to begin early research on the MOX project.

In 1970, the U.S. and Soviet Union signed what was called the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was an agreement not to vastly increase stockpiles of nuclear weapons, to pursue peaceful uses of plutonium, and to gradually seek ways to decrease each country’s nuclear weapons supply. China, Britain and France were also part of the treaty.

The MOX project was seen as a huge step towards converting weapons-grade plutonium to energy creation.  The MOX project renders the plutonium and uranium so it can’t be made into bomb materials, but can be used as fuel for nuclear reactors, and other safe purposes.

The president’s budget, according to AREVA, underfunds the project to the point it will not happen. AREVA says the budget places it on “cold-standby” — considered a governmental buzzword for “terminated.”

AREVA officials say this “hamstrings” efforts to honor the non-proliferation treaty, as the MOX process is currently the only way to modify weapons-grade plutonium (and what’s in the warheads of nuclear missiles) into a useful, non-lethal product that could be used to generate energy in nuclear power plants.

According to news sources, the just-released budget proposal would also kill some 1,000 jobs in the Savannah River area if the project remains on “cold-standby.”

While the 2015 Fiscal Year Budget proposal is not set in stone, this could be a big roadblock to a very promising nuclear related project that could provide energy and jobs for many.

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