Watchdogs Press U.S. on Risks of Uranium-Processing Revamp

Women operating calutrons in the 1940s to enrich uranium at the Y-12 facility in Tennessee, used in part for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. More than 30 watchdog organizations on Thursday pressed the Obama administration to examine potential dangers of a concept for redistributing its weapon-uranium processing operations.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
July 11, 2014, 5:56 a.m.

Act­iv­ists are ur­ging Wash­ing­ton to study pos­sible risks from a plan for dis­pers­ing bomb-urani­um activ­it­ies that pre­vi­ously were to be housed in a single fa­cil­ity.

A co­ali­tion of more than 30 watch­dog groups on Thursday said the En­ergy De­part­ment’s nuc­le­ar-weapons agency is re­quired by law to de­vel­op a new “site-wide en­vir­on­ment­al im­pact state­ment” for the pro­pos­al, de­vised this year by an in­de­pend­ent “Red Team” as an al­tern­at­ive to the Urani­um Pro­cessing Fa­cil­ity pro­ject in Ten­ness­ee.

The “UPF” ef­fort faced years of delays, as design ex­penses moun­ted and cost es­tim­ates bal­looned by bil­lions of dol­lars. Sub­stan­tial con­struc­tion at the Y-12 Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Com­plex ul­ti­mately nev­er began.

“Fail­ure to ex­ecute a suc­cess­ful design of the UPF in the first, flawed at­tempts has already cost tax­pay­ers nearly a bil­lion dol­lars. Fur­ther mis­takes in the pro­ject could cause sig­ni­fic­ant safety risks and more wasted tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars,” the Al­li­ance for Nuc­le­ar Ac­count­ab­il­ity ar­gued in a let­ter to Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion head Frank Klotz.

The U.S. atom­ic agency last month said it plans to fol­low the “Red Team” guidelines, which ad­vise us­ing cur­rent Y-12 in­fra­struc­ture to help con­tain costs and move onsite urani­um op­er­a­tions out of the fa­cil­ity’s dec­ades-old “9212” struc­ture. The al­tern­at­ive pro­ject re­portedly is in­ten­ded to cap costs at $6.5 bil­lion.

The act­iv­ists, though, im­plored Klotz to look bey­ond the in­de­pend­ent re­com­mend­a­tions de­vised this year.

“We urge you to take the time to fully in­vest­ig­ate the range of pos­sib­il­it­ies, even bey­ond the Red Team’s re­com­mend­a­tions, to set a course that will best serve the na­tion, not only by sav­ing money, but by pre­par­ing to meet fu­ture mis­sion re­quire­ments in the most ef­fect­ive and ef­fi­cient way,” they wrote in the let­ter, first re­por­ted by the Knoxville News Sen­tinel.

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