U.S. Senator to Press for Disclosure of Uranium Processing Proposal

Workers at the Y-12 National Security Complex in 2011 clean out a building slated for demolition. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) indicated he plans to press the Obama administration to publicly release details on a plan being developed as an alternative to a uranium-processing project planned at the Y-12 site.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
April 3, 2014, 10:07 a.m.

A key U.S. sen­at­or plans to press Obama of­fi­cials to cir­cu­late de­tails on a weapon-urani­um pro­cessing plan de­vised by a spe­cially con­vened “Red Team.”

A spokes­man said Sen­at­or Lamar Al­ex­an­der (R-Tenn.) will call on U.S. nuc­le­ar-arms man­agers to air “as much in­form­a­tion as pos­sible” on the draft pro­pos­al, which ex­perts are de­vel­op­ing as an al­tern­at­ive to a mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar urani­um com­plex planned in his state.

The “Red Team” began its re­view at the Y-12 Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Com­plex last month. In pri­or years, ef­forts to plan a new Urani­um Pro­cessing Fa­cil­ity at the Oak Ridge site have hit nu­mer­ous delays and cost over­runs.

“Sen­at­or Al­ex­an­der wants to see the Urani­um Pro­cessing Fa­cil­ity com­pleted un­der budget and on time,” spokes­man Jim Jef­fries told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire in an e-mailed re­sponse to ques­tions.

“He plans to par­ti­cip­ate in an April 30 budget hear­ing that will be open to the pub­lic, and he will en­cour­age the Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion to pub­licly re­lease as much in­form­a­tion as pos­sible on the Red Team re­view without un­der­min­ing na­tion­al se­cur­ity.”

Al­ex­an­der’s of­fice is­sued the com­ments after a watch­dog group in his state voiced con­cerns about the “secrecy” of the Red Team’s work.

“When the secret Red Team com­pletes its re­view, the res­ults of that re­view must be made pub­lic,” Ral­ph Hutchis­on, co­ordin­at­or of the Oak Ridge En­vir­on­ment­al Peace Al­li­ance, told the law­maker in a Tues­day let­ter.

The Red Team re­portedly plans in com­ing weeks to re­vise its al­tern­at­ive plan for re­lo­cat­ing bomb-urani­um activ­it­ies from a 1940s-era struc­ture. Upon com­ple­tion, the pre­lim­in­ary pro­pos­al would go to NNSA Act­ing Ad­min­is­trat­or Bruce Held for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Ini­tial En­ergy De­part­ment es­tim­ates were for the Urani­um Pro­cessing Fa­cil­ity to be built for no more than $1.1 bil­lion. But the cost pro­jec­tions have grown more than six­fold, with some fore­cast­ing that the total could hit nearly $20 bil­lion if the ori­gin­al plans were to go for­ward.

Hutchis­on said fur­ther scru­tiny of the al­tern­at­ive urani­um plan may be ne­ces­sary to de­term­ine its en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact. However, he sug­ges­ted that Held’s agency — a semi-in­de­pend­ent En­ergy De­part­ment of­fice in charge of U.S. nuc­le­ar-weapons op­er­a­tions — would likely ar­gue that the pro­pos­al is covered un­der the Y-12 fa­cil­ity’s ex­ist­ing site-wide en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ment.

“The pub­lic must be con­sul­ted in a mean­ing­ful way in plan­ning for sig­ni­fic­ant gov­ern­ment ac­tions,” Hutchis­on wrote in the let­ter, first re­por­ted by the Knoxville News Sen­tinel. “It’s not just that the pub­lic is more will­ing to buy-in if it feels in­cluded — it is that the de­cisions fi­nally made are bet­ter de­cisions.”

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