President Donald Trump is not shy about tackling what he (and others) consider to be federal boondoggles, and his recent “skinny budget” is a prime example of this gumption. The fiscal year 2018 framework he issued in mid-March promises to slash numerous politically popular, but often wasteful programs in an effort to reduce the federal government’s swollen allowance. While the administration works to finalize the details that will eventually accompany the President’s full budget proposal, we suggest he take a good, hard look at the viability of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) project in South Carolina.
We bet he hates what he finds.
The MOX project—designed to take weapons-grade plutonium and dispose of it by converting it into fuel for nuclear power plants—sounds good in theory. But, this partially constructed plant is a staggering four decades behind schedule, and an estimated 17 billion dollars over budget. It is plagued with technical and safety concerns, and doesn’t have a single utility client locked in to purchase the fuel it is supposed to produce.
And Trump thought upgrades to Air Force One weren’t justifiable.
The MOX project should be permanently mothballed — and the President should not only make shutting it down a priority, but should also point to it as an example of the kind of bad deal he intends to thwart.
Aside from the aforementioned challenges, last fall Russia pulled out of the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, the treaty that required both countries to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium through the fuel fabrication method MOX would employ. Project supporters used this international agreement to justify the South Carolina facility’s existence, cost overruns and all: it was required by treaty. With Russia no longer a party to the pact, that excuse no longer holds.
Over the years, Congressional efforts led by the state’s dogged senior senator, Lindsey Graham—who has sparred with Trump on multiple issues since the two faced each other in the GOP presidential primaries—have resulted in just enough funding to keep hopes for the plant alive. With Graham sitting on every Senate committee that either has jurisdiction over MOX or controls its funding, he succeeded in blocking the previous administration’s efforts to terminate the project and in securing $340 million in FY 2017 appropriations alone.
But now it’s a new day in Washington.
Trump’s recently confirmed Office of Management and Budget Director, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, is no stranger to the MOX facility. We suspect this stalwart budget hawk has been stuck between a rock and a hard place as far as this home state project (and the jobs it supports) is concerned. But as the architect of the President’s budget with a stated commitment to protecting taxpayer dollars, Mulvaney has a chance to look at MOX through a national lens and advise the President accordingly. While the President’s budget request is just a proposal that Congress, who ultimately writes the funding bills, can choose to ignore, the document signals the direction the President intends to take. Such leadership would earn applause on many points of the ideological spectrum. Putting MOX out of taxpayers’ misery has been a recurring recommendation in NTU Foundation’s deficit-reduction report, “Toward Common Ground” that was co-authored with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and was included in POGO’s 2017 “Baker’s Dozen of Suggested Congressional Oversight Priorities and Legislative Reforms.”
President Trump has said he won’t put up with superfluous spending. Members of Congress are already talking about the pet projects and programs they intend to protect from his proverbial axe. We hope to see MOX zeroed out of the President’s ultimate FY2018 budget proposal — and we hope to see the President make a firm statement against continuing to fund construction of this raw deal for the American taxpayers.