Watchdog Agency: Uranium-Processing Safety Technology Flunks Trials

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 21, 2014, 8:56 a.m.

Con­gres­sion­al aud­it­ors said a planned safety com­pon­ent for pro­cessing highly en­riched urani­um failed in re­cent tri­als, the Knoxville News Sen­tinel re­ports.

The still-un­built Urani­um Pro­cessing Fa­cil­ity, or “UPF” for short, was ex­pec­ted to use an in­su­lat­ing ma­ter­i­al in cast­ing op­er­a­tions. However, pro­ject par­ti­cipants are now look­ing to find either an al­tern­at­ive in­su­lat­or or an­oth­er means of meet­ing the as­so­ci­ated safety re­quire­ment, ac­cord­ing to a Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice re­port pub­lished on Fri­day.

“Ac­cord­ing to UPF con­tract­or rep­res­ent­at­ives, this risk is now the pro­ject’s most sig­ni­fic­ant tech­no­lo­gic­al risk,” GAO of­fi­cials said of the com­pon­ent, which was in­ten­ded for use at a site tent­at­ively slated for con­struc­tion at the Y-12 Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Com­plex in Ten­ness­ee.

The re­port airs sep­ar­ate con­cerns about a mi­crowave urani­um-cast­ing sys­tem it says has not been ad­equately tested. It also says budget­ing choices res­ul­ted in sev­en out of 19 key tech­no­logy pro­jects be­ing un­fun­ded in fisc­al 2014.

The En­ergy De­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­spond­ing to three of the as­sess­ment’s five con­cerns, and forth­com­ing ac­tions might ad­dress the re­main­ing is­sues, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

GAO aud­it­ors said the tech­no­logy con­cerns could re­main im­port­ant even if poli­cy­makers de­cide to pur­sue an­oth­er pro­ject in the urani­um site’s place. Of­fi­cials began ex­amin­ing oth­er op­tions for meet­ing the Y-12 fa­cil­ity’s urani­um needs after UPF pre­par­a­tions hit nu­mer­ous sched­ule and cost over­runs.

Of­fi­cials at the semi-autonom­ous nuc­le­ar agency are “ree­valu­at­ing the UPF pro­ject and may de­cide to con­struct a fa­cil­ity that is smal­ler and con­tains only se­lect en­riched urani­um-pro­cessing cap­ab­il­it­ies,” the con­gres­sion­al watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion wrote.

“Wheth­er NNSA con­tin­ues with the UPF pro­ject or chooses to un­der­take a smal­ler pro­ject, the fa­cil­ity will likely cost bil­lions of dol­lars, and its abil­ity to meet crit­ic­al na­tion­al se­cur­ity needs will de­pend on suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment and de­ploy­ment of new tech­no­lo­gies,” the GAO re­port states.

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