The projected cost had passed $10 billion and the completion date pushed back to 2038, so federal officials were looking for an alternative approach for the proposed Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Earlier this year, the National Nuclear Security Administration asked Thom Mason, Oak Ridge National Laboratory director, to lead a team—a so-called “Red Team”—that would develop an alternative approach.
The team’s task was to find a faster, more efficient solution, NNSA Acting Administrator Bruce Held told a House subcommittee on April 3.
On Tuesday, the deadline for submitting a report, Mason said the team has identified a possible alternative and provided information on how the proposal could be implemented if the NNSA adopts it. The next step will be up to the NNSA. Y-12 is an NNSA site.
The goal is to still allow workers to get out of Y-12’s aging Building 9212 by 2025 and keep the cost within an approved range of $4.2 billion to $6.5 billion, Mason said late Tuesday afternoon, when the report was being polished before transmittal.
The proposed alternative “doesn’t exactly look like what had been envisioned,” Mason said. But he said he couldn’t discuss some of the details because NNSA officials hadn’t seen the report yet, and some information is somewhat sensitive or classified.
Mason said the team included about 25 experts from across the U.S. Department of Energy and NNSA complex, including the Office of Science, and energy labs such as Savannah River and Idaho. The experts have relevant experience in areas ranging from chemistry and the needs of weapons labs to project management and safety and security.
Mason, who led the project to build the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL before he became lab director, said other members of the alternatives review team could be named in the final report sent to the NNSA.
In his April 3 testimony, Held told Congress that Building 9212 would be almost 100 years old by 2038, and he wants a new uranium processing facility at Y-12 before then.
“Let’s have something much better and much more cost-effective in 2025,” Held said. “We need to move sooner. We cannot kick the can down the road.”
That’s why Mason was brought in, Held said.
He said the 9212 complex is safe to operate, but “the decrepit nature of that facility does not communicate to the workforce that I care about their work environment and their safety.”
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, said the conditions at 9212 are “deplorable, antiquated, and sad.”
“I’m committed, for the record, to making sure the UPF goes forward,” Fleischmann said. “I think it’s critical for the nation’s needs.”
Mason said the alternatives review team had a kickoff meeting in mid-February, spent a week visiting Y-12 in March, received briefings, completed homework, reassembled for another five days of intensive work, and then formulated recommendations.
More information will be added as it becomes available.