WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The United States must keep its nuclear nonproliferation commitments and finish building the mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel main facility in South Carolina that supports an important agreement between the United States and Russia, argues former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.
Richardson said the MOX facility, which is more than two-thirds complete, is vital to the United States keeping its side of the landmark Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), which was signed in 2000 and amended in 2010. The agreement calls on both the United States and Russia to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium each through MOX. The combined 68 metric tons of plutonium is equivalent to approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, he said.
"There is tension in the U.S.-Russian relationship, and we don't need to add more by jeopardizing the plutonium agreement, which is working well. Russia is keeping its side of the plutonium agreement and we need to keep our side of it," he said.
Richardson said while he's heard some are trying to stop funding MOX and end construction of the facility that is more than 67 percent finished, no alternative to MOX currently exists that fulfills the agreement with Russia. He also pointed to a recent independent analysis from High Bridge and Associates that shows other proposed alternatives are just as expensive, if not more, than the MOX method of plutonium disposal. [The study is available here].
One proposed alternative to MOX, still on the drawing board, would dilute plutonium and send it across country from South Carolina to New Mexico for burial at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which has been closed since early 2014 due to safety issues. Richardson threw cold water on that, saying, "WIPP is a good facility and it's working, although it's had some problems it is currently sorting out. The worst thing to do is change its mission – the delay could cause material scheduled from states like Washington and Idaho to stay in those states," Richardson said.
He pointed out that the MOX Project started when he was energy secretary, New Mexico WIPP opened when he was governor and he negotiated the PMDA with the Russians as ambassador to the United Nations.
After a news conference, Richardson said that in the past, respected nonproliferation advocates such as former Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar were able to put nonproliferation on the map while working together across party lines to keep America's national security strong. "We need more bipartisan voices these days supporting nuclear nonproliferation and fissile material disposition," he said.
Richardson concluded by saying, "Don't kill something that's working. We have to keep our nonproliferation commitments – that's paramount. Stay the course on completing the MOX Project."
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SOURCE Former US Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson