By MIA STEINLE
A House effort with bipartisan support lead yesterday to the passage of an amendment to the FY 2013 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act (H.R. 5325) that smartly invests taxpayer money and makes America safer. The amendment from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) reprogrammed $17 million from the Department of Energy’s troubled mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel program to go to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.
Fortenberry was joined in support of his amendment on the House floor this week by the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees nuclear projects, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), and by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). As Fortenberry said, “If there is one thing we can all agree on… it is that dollars are scarce in Washington. And with this in mind, I'm concerned about the amount of money that has been spent on the mixed oxide fuel program.”
|"MOX is a reverse Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will not come… Instead, it is a nightmare that will leave future generations to safeguard a dangerous fuel with no buyers.”|
-Rep. Ed Markey on the House floor
POGO and other expert groups, as well as the Government Accountability Office (GAO), have spoken out against the MOX program for years. Since its inception, the cost for the MOX facility has ballooned from $1.6 million to $4.9 billion, and the GAO reported several years ago that the project was at least 11 years behind schedule. What’s more, the DOE said in its FY 2013 budget request that the cost of the facility will likely only increase as the project experiences high personnel turnover and as it struggles to find experienced engineering and technical staff.
While the DOE says it needs the facility to turn weapons-grade plutonium and depleted uranium oxide into mixed-oxide fuel, which can be used in nuclear reactors, it hasn’t even found a customer for the fuel.
We’re pleased that Fortenberry’s amendment “thinks outside the MOX” and funds legitimate nonproliferation projects that make Americans safer. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative is a program that aims to “reduce and protect vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials located at civilian sites worldwide,” preventing terrorists from accessing these potentially dangerous materials.
For instance, since 2004, the program has secured more than 900 vulnerable radiological sites around the world, which contained enough material for approximately 10,000 dirty bombs. And in the U.S., the program has removed over 13,000 at-risk radiological sources, which contained enough material for more than 900 dirty bombs.
Of course, we would have liked to see a proposal that scrapped the entire MOX facility—and, with at least $4.9 billion at stake, we think taxpayers would agree. Nonetheless, redirecting funds from an overpriced facility with dwindling justification to a program that actually serves the public interest is a no-brainer and a major step in the right direction.
Mia Steinle is a POGO investigator
Image from Department of Energy