U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander on Wednesday called for a special Senate hearing on whether an ongoing review of the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge could serve as a model to improve oversight of U.S. Department of Energy projects, a press release said.
In a hearing held by the Appropriations Subcommittee for Energy and Water Development, of which he is the lead Republican, Alexander noted that Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is currently conducting a “Red Team” review of UPF. Mason’s Red Team members are using the same process that has made the Office of Science the only office in DOE that successfully manages efficient and cost-effective projects, said Alexander, a Tennessee Republican.
“They are going to give us a report this month on what we need to do to keep it within budget and still meet the objective,” Alexander told Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz during Wednesday’s hearing. “I don’t want to prejudge the report. Maybe it will turn out to be something we want. But I like the process.”
During his questioning of Moniz, Alexander continued: “You have within your department … almost all the largest government construction projects in the country. You’ve got them all. Just about. All the biggest ones. And they are headed to the moon in terms of costs.
“We’re glad the uranium facility will be creating so many good jobs in Tennessee in a safer working environment. But Tennesseans pay taxes too. We want to get a handle on the cost of these big, complex projects.”
“It is such a simple thing, but it’s a question of accountability, and who is on the flagpole? Who is responsible for a specific result?”
Moniz testified before the Appropriations Subcommittee for Energy and Water Development as part of a hearing on the Department of Energy’s 2015 budget request, the press release said. Alexander cited the following Department of Energy projects and their costs as causes for concern:
Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, which would process uranium for nuclear weapons systems:
- Initial cost estimate—$650 million
- Current projected cost estimate—$4 billion to $6.5 billion
MOX (Mixed Oxide Fuel) Facility in Savannah River, S.C., which would use plutonium from nuclear weapons for fuel in commercial nuclear power plants:
- Initial cost estimate—$4.8 billion
- Current projected cost estimate—$13 billion to $25 billion
ITER, an international project seeking to design and build a fusion power reactor:
- Initial cost estimate—$1.1 billion to $2.2 billion
- Current projected cost estimate—$4 billion to $6 billion
Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility in Los Alamos, N.M, which would produce plutonium pits for nuclear weapons:
- Initial cost estimate—$400 million
- Current projected cost estimate—$3.7 billion to $5.8 billion
Alexander has said the uranium facility should be subject to external review, that design should be 90 percent complete before construction begins, and that officials involved with the project should meet regularly with Alexander and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Energy and Water Development.
In addition to discussing the Uranium Processing Facility, Alexander highlighted his other priorities including increasing basic research, reducing federal spending on mature technologies, and modernizing the nation’s nuclear deterrent, the press release said.