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MOX plant at Savannah River Site to get $345M in budget bill, funding until next fall

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Construction of a plant that would convert weapons-grade nuclear material into reactor fuel will get $345 million to fund operations through October despite the Obama administration's attempts to put the project on hold.

The money is in a $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by the U.S. House on Thursday and expected to receive Senate approval, perhaps as early as Friday.

Construction began in 2007 at the Savannah River Site as part of an agreement with Russia to produce MOX, or mixed-oxide fuel, at the sprawling Department of Energy complex on the Savannah River.

The administration had said earlier this year it wanted to put the project on hold, citing billions in cost overruns and project delays. The work is more than three years behind its 2016 completion deadline and now expected to cost about $8 billion.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the spending bill, which funds government operations through the end of the federal fiscal year next September, includes language preventing the project from being put on "cold standby."

"I am proud that we were able to overcome this misguided effort and secure the additional funding and authority to continue construction of the MOX facility," Graham said in a statement, referring to mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX. "In next year's budget request, I hope, and expect, to see a greater commitment from DOE to the state of South Carolina."

South Carolina sued when the administration said it wanted to put the project on standby. It dropped the lawsuit last May when the administration agreed to fund the project through the end of the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

The new budget bill provides money to keep the work going until next October.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, whose district includes the site, called the MOX work a vital national security project and said in a statement the funding will help ensure it remains on track until completed.

During a visit to the Savannah River Site earlier this year, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said federal officials need to identify a long-term funding stream for the MOX plant.

The budget measure also includes $547 million for continued work on cleaning tanks that contain radioactive liquid waste at the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear weapons plant.

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