By Danny Black and Will Williams
The federal government’s decision to terminate the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) construction project at the Savannah River Site and failure to provide the economic and impact assistance payments to South Carolina is harmful to the State, and we applaud the Attorney General’s continued efforts to enforce the law and hold the federal government accountable.
When completed, the MOX facility would have converted defense plutonium into a fuel capable of use in commercial nuclear reactors. This would have satisfied a U.S.–Russia nuclear weapons agreement to mutually dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium produced during the Cold War. Although it was about 70 percent complete, the project was terminated in October 2018, leaving the defense plutonium stranded at SRS indefinitely.
The South Carolina communities around SRS should benefit from the sale of surplus equipment from the shuttered MOX facility. The anticipated value could be in the millions of dollars. As examples, design documents show the MOX facility includes 300 separate process systems using approximately 23,000 instruments, extensive safety systems, miles of process piping along with conduit, power and control cables, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment and duct work.
While equipment at the MOX facility has not yet been declared surplus, the timing is right to make this request. Proceeds from the sale of MOX surplus equipment should rightfully be used as a logical first step in making South Carolina and local communities whole in light of the cancellation of the MOX project and failure to make the assistance payments to the State.
Additionally, DOE should provide the State or South Carolina communities select parcels of government-owned land at SRS for economic development purposes. Unneeded government land on the fringe, buffer areas of SRS would be attractive to private industries that have synergy with the site’s scientists, engineers, and technology. This could be accomplished without interfering with SRS operations as the buffer area makes up about 80 percent of the 310 square-mile site situated in Aiken, Allendale, and Barnwell counties.
These industries can create new jobs, enhance the region’s industrial base, and become tax revenue generators for local governments. This model is well-established at other DOE sites like Oak Ridge in Tennessee and can result in significant economic benefit and growth opportunities for South Carolina communities around SRS.
Local economic development groups have already identified parcels of government-owned property that would serve the stated purpose, taking advantage of the site’s strategic location, strong technical base, and the region’s sizeable available workforce. Funds from the sale of MOX surplus equipment could be used to perform the required due diligence on this property and create a funding source for needed infrastructure for these sites, such as water and sewer.
As with all federal-state challenges, success will require a team effort at the federal, state, and local levels. This ground-breaking approach—obtaining funds from surplus MOX equipment and gaining access to select SRS land—will enhance economic development prospects and allow for the creation of a cooperative relationship between DOE and the SRS community.
[Danny Black is President and CEO of SouthernCarolina Regional Economic Development Alliance;
Will Williams is President and CEO of the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership.]