Reaction to the proposed termination of MOX has been as polarizing as the president seeking elimination of the under-construction facility at the Savannah River Site.
In his budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, President Donald Trump was unequivocal in his desire to terminate MOX, or the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. The plant, if completed, would convert defense plutonium into fuel for commercial reactors.
But MOX has also been besieged by cost overruns, constant delays and minimal funding from Congress. Construction has limped along. Supporters fear without MOX, the state will become a nuclear dumping ground.
In his budget proposal, Trump adopts the philosophy of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. Both men have said they prefer downblending as a less costly, faster alternative to MOX.
"Multiple independent analyses confirm that the MOX approach would be significantly more expensive than originally anticipated and would require approximately $800 million to $1 billion annually for decades," the budget states. "It would be irresponsible to pursue this approach when a more cost-effective alternative exists."
Trump's dismissal of MOX is perplexing. The commander in chief has gone to great lengths to separate himself politically from Obama only to follow in his predecessor's footsteps as it relates to MOX.
It's also baffling considering both South Carolina senators and at least one House member are ardent supporters of MOX.
Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Joe Wilson both issued statements criticizing the budget proposal's termination of MOX. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., didn't specifically address MOX in remarks to The Post and Courier.
"I'm not overly concerned with the president's budget at all," Scott told the newspaper.
Scott, though, has traditionally been a major supporter of MOX. He spoke highly in favor of the facility during an August 2016 visit to North Augusta.
"The opposition to MOX is, in my opinion, nonsense. There is no other way to dispose of this weapons-grade plutonium other than the MOX facility," Scott said.
Additionally, Trump has two South Carolinians in his administration — Mick Mulvaney and Nikki Haley, the later of whom vocally voiced her opposition to turning South Carolina into a dumping ground.
To his credit Trump did reiterate his support for pledging $120 million to reopen the Yucca Mountain repository. It's an important part of the disposal equation, but the equation doesn't add up without MOX.
As we've noted, the Russians suspended their participation in the Plutonium Management Disposition Agreement, or PMDA, citing delays in MOX as a main reason.
In a conference call with reporters, National Nuclear Security Administration, or NNSA, officials said restarting MOX isn't the only condition Russians have placed on returning to the PMDA.
NNSA Administrator Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz said the Russians also are demanding reparations for U.S. imposed sanctions relating to Russia's invasion of Crimea. Klotz also said the United States has concerns over Russia's human rights record.
In spite of the politics, the president's proposed budget is exactly that — proposed. Seldom do presidential budgets cruise through Congress without any scrutiny or debate. Already there's a counter budget proposal that appropriates $335 million to MOX.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has called the Trump budget "dead on arrival." Other more conservative lawmakers have been hesitant to unequivocally embrace it.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., one of the House's more conservative members, called Trump's 3 percent growth projections a "Goldilocks scenario."
Moving forward, there will be plenty of haggling over the budget. Remember in 2016 — MOX funding wasn't locked in until December. Approval came despite Obama stating his desire to shut down MOX, and also in spite of a paltry $270 million being awarded. We suspect this is how things will play out this year.
This editorial is from The Aiken Standard via The Associated Press.