Team Closes In on New Plan for Processing U.S. Bomb-Usable Uranium

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 1, 2014, 8:35 a.m.

A key of­fi­cial said his team has reached “strong con­sensus” on a po­ten­tial sub­sti­tute for a planned bomb-urani­um plant, the Knoxville News Sen­tinel re­ports.

Oak Ridge Na­tion­al Labor­at­ory Dir­ect­or Thom Ma­son said his “Red Team” of roughly two dozen spe­cial­ists would put for­ward a single al­tern­ate pro­pos­al for hous­ing op­er­a­tions now slated for trans­fer to the still-un­built Urani­um Pro­cessing Fa­cil­ity, or “UPF” for short.

“Now wheth­er or not it’s bet­ter, that will be the judg­ment of the [Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion],” he told the News Sen­tinel on Monday. The urani­um plant has been slated for con­struc­tion at the Y-12 Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Com­plex in Ten­ness­ee, but the site’s pro­jec­ted price tag has ris­en dra­mat­ic­ally over the atom­ic agency’s ini­tial es­tim­ate from a dec­ade ago.

“The UPF concept had a lot of at­tract­ive op­tions in terms of the max­im­um con­sol­id­a­tion [of urani­um op­er­a­tions], min­im­um foot­print, op­er­a­tion­al flex­ib­il­ity from get­ting everything in one fa­cil­ity. And, in some of those di­men­sions, al­most any­thing else is go­ing to be less op­tim­um,” Ma­son said.

He ad­ded, though, that his group saw a need for “ur­gency” in mov­ing sens­it­ive bomb-pro­cessing op­er­a­tions out of the Y-12 fa­cil­ity’s aging “9212” build­ing, where they risk delays if the site en­coun­ters prob­lems. Ma­son’s team is ex­pec­ted to present a pro­pos­al that could be ex­ecuted by 2025, at a cost not ex­ceed­ing $6.5 bil­lion.

“Part of the chal­lenge with the UPF as it’s cur­rently con­figured is it’s large and ex­pens­ive. Be­cause of that, it takes a long time. You have to keep in the [ex­ist­ing fa­cil­it­ies] for longer than you like,” Ma­son said.

The of­fi­cial said his group would spend the com­ing two weeks pre­par­ing a sum­mary of its pro­pos­al for sub­mis­sion to NNSA Act­ing Ad­min­is­trat­or Bruce Held. He stressed that fur­ther work would be ne­ces­sary to flesh out the find­ings.

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