Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2006--Conference Report

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Nov. 14, 2005
Location: Washington, DC




Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I rise today to express my concern regarding the Mixed Oxide fuel project. This project is vital to reduce the threat of terrorists or rogue nations obtaining nuclear weapon materials. By resulting in the disposal of 34 metric tons--64 tons in total--of surplus weapon-grade plutonium, enough for thousands of nuclear weapons, the MOX program helps accomplish one of our most important nonproliferation goals. This plutonium, once converted into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants, is a real ``swords into plowshares'' program.


Mr. GRAHAM. Despite this importance, the Department of Energy has not requested full funding for this project in the President's Fiscal Year 2004, Fiscal Year 2005 and Fiscal Year 2006 budget request as originally proposed in the report to Congress entitled ``Disposition of Surplus Defense Plutonium at Savannah River Site, February 2002.'' The funding shortfalls will add to the existing 3-year delay caused by the negotiations between the Russian and U.S. Governments regarding liability for the project. However, with agreement between the U.S. and Russia on liability, the administration has no reason not to request full funding in next year's budget. It is vital that in the next budget the administration proposes fully funding the MOX program at a level that will bring this project closer to its original schedule.


Mr. GRAHAM. Never hesitant to support missions in support of our national defense, the residents of South Carolina took considerable risk by allowing shipments of defense plutonium to be sent to the Savannah River Site from Rocky Flats and other DOE sites in advance of the construction of the MOX plant. In addition to supporting DOE's efforts to consolidate plutonium and accomplish the goals of the plutonium disposition program, this agreement greatly assisted DOE's efforts to expeditiously close Rocky Flats, resulting in considerable cost savings for DOE.

In a sign of good faith to the State of South Carolina, language was negotiated between the State of South Carolina and the Federal Government that required the Department of Energy to convert one metric ton of defense plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors by 2011 or face penalties of $1 million per day up to $100 million per year until the plutonium is either converted into the fuel or removed from the State. It has never been the intention of South Carolina to receive penalty payments; the residents of the State simply sought reassurances that weapons-grade plutonium would not remain at SRS indefinitely. South Carolina would not have accepted plutonium without this statute. However, until the plant is operational, it is critical to maintain the protections provided in Section 4306 of the Atomic Energy Defense Act, 50 USC 2566. This is the reassurance the Federal Government gives to South Carolina that it is DOE's intention to see this project through.


Mr. GRAHAM. It is also my intention to make a technical correction, in the future, to language contained in the conference report to the Fiscal Year 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Act. This conference report contains a change to important authorizing language that would make these penalty payments ``subject to the availability of appropriations.'' I appreciate the willingness of the Senator from New Mexico to see that this is resolved.

Mr. DOMENICI. I understand the concerns of the Senator from South Carolina. I will work with the Senator to find a fair solution that does not impact existing Department of Energy programs, and in the event that the Department is unable to meet the statutory requirements for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Conversion facility, the solution ensures that South Carolina does not become the permanent storage site for defense plutonium.

Mr. GRAHAM. I thank the Senator from New Mexico and look forward to working with him to continue to fully support the construction and operation of the MOX facility.