The prime contractor for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility will lay off roughly a third of its workforce in early January, according to federally required layoff notices filed Nov. 8, two days after the U.S. midterm elections. 

CB&I Project Services, now part of McDermott and a subcontractor-owner of Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) prime MOX Services, will lay off 500 people on Jan. 7, 2019, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice reported by the quasi-official

The incomplete MFFF at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. employs more than 1,500 workers. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) officially canceled MOX Services’ prime contract to build the plant Oct. 10, a day after a federal appeals court lifted a lower court’s ban on closing the facility.

The MFFF was designed to turn 34 metric tons of surplus weapon-useble plutonium into commercial reactor fuel under a 2000 arms-control pact with Russia that required Moscow to eliminate the same amount of plutonium.

Earlier this decade, the NNSA determined the project’s costs were growing excessive and that the plutonium should be disposed of using a method dubbed dilute and dispose: chemically weakening the fissile material at planned Savannah River Site facilities, blending it with concrete-like grout called stardust and burying the mixture deep underground in New Mexico at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

In part to stem the employment hit at Savannah River, the NNSA has proposed turning the incomplete MFFF into a factory to annually produce 50 fissile nuclear-weapon cores called plutonium pits by 2030. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review the Trump administration published in February calls for the NNSA to make 80 pits a year by 2030 to support future warhead refurbishments. The Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico would produce the rest of the pits.

Canceling the MFFF is a “colossal mistake,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the loudest MFFF ally in Washington, said Thursday in a prepared statement. Graham, despite becoming a prominent supporter of President Trump, has been losing his battle to protect the project in Congress. This year, he failed to secure an appropriation larger than what the White House sought to cancel the facility and could not persuade his colleagues to codify a one-year prohibition against closing the MFFF. 

The NNSA says it will take until 2038 and cost about $17 billion to finish MFFF. MOX Services says it will cost about $10 billion and take until 2029. The contractor has received about a year’s worth of shut-down work at the MFFF.