Wes Hickman or Kevin Bish
– U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said he was pleased to hear that Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has written to the Chairman and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee certifying the MOX fuel fabrication facility to be constructed at Savannah River Site is still on track to convert weapons-grate plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel by January 2009.
The written certification to Congress was one of the requirements that Graham, while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond pushed into law in December 2002.
The Thurmond-Graham language also included fines of up to $100 million a year if plutonium is not being converted to fuel under strict timelines and a legal requirement to remove plutonium from the state should the program fail.
“I’m very pleased with the Secretary’s certification,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This is an important program, taking the weapons of the Cold War and turning them into fuel to make electricity. I have confidence that the Bush White House will continue to work with us to ensure this program is a success.
“Certification was one of the important provisions the Thurmond-Graham legislation contained to protect the state,” said Graham. “I’m glad we passed it into law as it gives us protection from program failure and also serves as a valuable tool to help keep pushing the program along.”
In his letter, Abraham noted the U.S. and Russian Federation have disagreed on liability provisions for work done in Russia on the MOX fabrication facility. The disagreement has resulted in the interruption of work in Russia and slowed work in the U.S. as the programs are to proceed in “rough parallel.”
“We are determined to resolve this issue in time to prevent slippages that will prevent us from meeting our 2009 commitments,” wrote Abraham. “While the start of construction will be delayed due to our ongoing disagreement with Russia regarding liability, we are confident that we will be able to meet overall program objectives – the elimination of weapon-grade plutonium for thousands of nuclear weapons.”
Graham noted he has recently spoken with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other key parties handling negotiations with the Russian Federation over the liability provisions.
“We’re going to get a deal, it’s just a matter of time” said Graham. “Everyone understands the importance of this program to world security and knows there’s a lot at stake. The quicker we can get agreement the quicker we can move both the U.S. and Russian programs forward.”