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U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson: 2019 defense bill a good thing for SRS

August 24, 2018

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., believes the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act did right by the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and the Savannah River Site in general.

On Thursday, at a district tour stop at Shealy’s Bar-B-Que in Batesburg-Leesville, Wilson said he was ultimately happy with the NDAA, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Aug. 13. Wilson attended the signing ceremony at Fort Drum, New York.

The NDAA, a set of laws that defines the nation’s defense-related spending, authorized $220 million for continued MOX construction, design, long-lead procurement and overall site preparation.

That’s the same amount allotted to MOX in the president’s February budget request. It’s also significantly less than what’s shown up in years prior.

“I had wanted more, but, my goodness, that’s a lot of money,” Wilson said. “We’re talking about a quarter-billion dollars, gee whiz.”

The congressman said the law’s wording – the fact that the NDAA supports ongoing work despite the facility’s controversial and litigious nature – was “significant.”

MOX is a roughly 70 percent complete facility being built at the Site. MOX, once complete as originally intended, will transform at least 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel.

On May 10, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry moved to kill the MOX venture in favor of dilute-and-dispose, another plutonium disposition method. That same day, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended repurposing MOX’s bones for a plutonium pit production mission.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores or triggers.

The NNSA – a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency – and the DOD wants to pump out at least 50 pits a year at SRS. But doing so, per the May 10 recommendation, would require scrapping MOX entirely.

The NDAA, though, calls into question the DOE’s ability to install pit production at the Site.

On Thursday, Wilson said he was “concerned” about DOE decision making. But, he added, he has faith in Perry.

When asked if SRS concerns – funding, MOX and pits, for example – have been brought to the president’s attention, Wilson said yes.

“He listens,” Wilson said of Trump, “and I know he listens.”

The congressman believes the Site can have both a completed MOX and a fully furnished pit mission. Constructing a new facility at SRS explicitly for pit production was something the NNSA considered and studied at one point.

“Well, see my view is that I’d be for both,” Wilson said, “and so you can also build a another facility. … I’m for all the above.”

His comments on Thursday echoed those he made in February after Perry visited SRS.

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