Many business leaders and public officials consider it a great opportunity.
The proposed Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex could cost up to $6.5 billion and employ up to 1,500 workers during the peak construction period. It’s been called the largest federal capital project in Tennessee since the Manhattan Project, and construction could last another decade.
On Monday, Tennessee officials announced they will help companies that are already in the state and interested in working on the project, and recruit out-of-state businesses, particularly in the nuclear industry. Those new companies will be encouraged to stay in the state, said Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Officials said the new strategic partnership, which was announced at Y-12‘s New Hope Center, will help expand the industrial supply chain in Tennessee. Calling it a catalyst, officials said that expanded industrial base could be used later for other projects, including the new Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Horizon Center Business Park and the proposed small modular nuclear reactors at the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor site in west Oak Ridge.
“That’s industrial growth,” said John Eschenberg, UPF federal project director. “It’s transcendent.”
The partnership includes Y-12, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, and Tennessee Valley Authority.
The UPF supply chain would provide parts such as concrete, steel, plywood, commodities, and speciality equipment, and the project will require workers trained in skills ranging from basic engineering to construction supervision.
It’s a tremendous opportunity, Eschenberg said.
Hagerty said his department’s initiatives could range from tax incentives and workforce development to educating small businesses on federal work and helping companies work with other state departments, including the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Eschenberg said $340 million is appropriated for the UPF this year.
“I’ve never seen one that is so robustly supported,” Eschenberg said. “Our country must have the UPF. It’s really no more complex than that.”
The new 350,000-square-foot 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.
During the peak construction period, UPF could have $700 million in funding, and it could take 120 months to build.
Eschenberg said federal projects can fail without a consistent funding stream.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, said he believes there is a strong commitment for fully funding the project.
“The commitment on the federal side will be there,” Fleischmann said. “This is a matter of national security.”
Eschenberg said the project’s design is about 66 percent complete. He said the first few contract awards have been made, one to East Tennessee Mechanical for electrical work and another to Avisco for civil work to set up a “wet spoils” area for unusable soil.
“We have initiated site readiness work,” Eschenberg said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make the next award, he said.