A high-ranking official in the Energy Department said the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication facility, or MOX, under construction at the Savannah River Site is the “preferred solution” to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium if sustained funding is available over time, despite the federal government’s efforts to place the project in a cold stand-by.


According to an article in the Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor – a publication that follows nuclear activities – Department of Energy Deputy Secretary nominee Liz Sherwood-Randall reported the news.


The article states that Sherwood-Randall spoke to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday and was quoted as saying the problem with MOX is not the technical viability of the program, but rather the funding scope.


Sherwood-Randall’s comments come two weeks after the White House threatened to veto a U.S. House bill partly because it includes $345 million in funding for construction of the Savannah River Site facility – $149 million more than President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request.


The Office on Management and Budget released the statement on July 9 objecting to MOX funding, and several other funding scopes, outlined in the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act.


“The (Obama) Administration strongly objects to language that would require the Secretary of Energy to continue construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility,” officials wrote in the statement.


The MOX program is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.


The Energy Department of Energy released a study in April pricing the entire program at more than $30 billion. The study included four MOX alternatives to dispose of the plutonium, with MOX ranking as the projected third-cheapest option.


The project will likely be the main topic of discussion during Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s visit to the Site. Moniz and Gov. Nikki Haley will be touring the MOX and other facilities Monday morning. Moniz will hold a news conference after his tour.


Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.