Note: This story was last updated at 9:53 a.m. Oct. 4.
The new $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex could be larger than originally planned to make sure all the building’s equipment fits inside, a federal official said Wednesday.
The roof could be raised by 13 feet to 71 feet, said John Eschenberg, UPF federal project director at Y-12. That would give adequate room for process equipment used for machining, wet chemistry, and casting, as well as for the operators who use it.
To raise the roof, the building’s walls will be thickened from 18 inches to 30 inches, and the foundation will be thicker as well, Eschenberg said.
Some work at the site, which is located in the heart of Y-12, could begin by the end of the year, Eschenberg said. That work would include removing a parking lot and relocating a section of Bear Creek Road.
Eschenberg said $500 million has already been spent on design work for the 350,000-square-foot UPF during the past seven to eight years. The federal government agreed to fully fund the work at $340 million in the fiscal year that began Monday.
“That allows us to turbocharge our efforts,” Eschenberg said during a Wednesday morning Rotary Club meeting. That half-hour presentation followed a Tuesday afternoon hearing in Knoxville of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
Eschenberg said the next step is to present a UPF cost estimate and project schedule to U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel B. Poneman.
Eschenberg said he thinks Congress will support the UPF. The 480-foot by 370-foot building would be involved in a range of work, including nuclear nonproliferation, weapons dismantlement and refurbishment, and naval nuclear reactor and medical isotope programs.
“This is truly taking a sword and beating it into a plowshare,” Eschenberg said.
It would be connected to the $549 million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, which began operating several years ago and recently became the subject of much unwanted attention after a July 28 security breach.
The UPF would replace four old buildings at Y-12, part of a years-long effort to update the 811-acre site, consolidate operations, and cut the plant’s high-security “footprint” from 150 acres to 15. Y-12 was built to enrich uranium during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project.
“This modernization effort will accelerate the transition out of our original World War II-era facilities—most notably Building 9212, which has served as America’s uranium processing hub for nearly 70 years,” Eschenberg said in a Tuesday statement to DNFSB. “Our suite of uranium processing capabilities is nearing the end of their useful life and simply cannot meet the nation’s future, critical nuclear security needs.”
The single largest post-war investment by the government in Tennessee, the cost of the UPF greatly overshadows other investments in the region, including the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the $1 billion Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Eschenberg said.
“It’s a very large investment,” he said.
The UPF could employ about 1,500 workers during the peak construction period. Hundreds of companies want to do business with the UPF, Eschenberg said, and officials need to reach out to them and convince them to locate their businesses in Tennessee.
Oak Ridge officials have recently been saying similar things, noting that the UPF work could create new business opportunities for the city, especially among subcontractors.
Eschenberg said he will know more about the UPF redesign in about three weeks and should have more information then on project details such as cost and schedule.
Y-12 workers could start transitioning out of Building 9212 in 2019, and UPF could start operating in 2023, Eschenberg said.
“We’ve got 10 years worth of work to go,” he said.