After a couple of months of dealing with fallout over a security breach by protesters at Y-12, now the NNSA is facing criticism over the safety and design of the building that will perform one of the nation's critical nuclear functions.
Tuesday the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board that keeps tabs on problems with nuclear construction projects held a public meeting at the Knoxville Convention Center. Board members questioned Y-12 officials about a slew of design flaws and organizational failures in the planning of the new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF).
The UPF project ranks as the most expensive building construction project in Tennessee history at an estimated cost of up to $6.5 billion. The UPF serves as a modern replacement for the aging infrastructure that currently handles the nation's bomb-grade uranium. Those older structures, such as Building 9212, are antiquated designs that do not meet current safety standards for events such as earthquakes.
For the last few years the UPF Project Team has worked on designs for the new facility. Y-12 officials said $500 million has already been spent on the project. They admitted Tuesday that the project will have to be redesigned because of a lack of safety plans and inadequate space.
In the last few years the UPF designs kept progressing, even though the DNFSB repeatedly warned that the plans did not yet have an approved Preliminary Safety Design Report. The "inadequacies in the integration of safety into the design" for a building that will handle some of the most dangerous material in the world did not stop the UPF Project Team from continuing and completing 73 percent of the final design.
Now much of that work will have to be redone to address several design issues. Tuesday Y-12 officials admitted the equipment that will process bomb-grade uranium will not fit inside the current UPF design. The roof needs to be raised around 13 feet. The size of the equipment has not changed since plans for the UPF began years ago.
Members of the DNFSB criticized Y-12/NNSA leaders for communication failures that allowed the project to proceed without completing a safety prerequisite.
"You need to know that the project clearly defines what its control set is and that it clearly determines its safety documentation for projects of this kind. That's my point. Okay?" said Peter Winokur, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Chairman.
Previous estimates said the new UPF could cost up to $6.5 billion. That's more than ten times the cost of its sister building, the completed Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF). The UPF is a much larger facility than the HEUMF. The UPF measures about a football field wide, almost a couple of football fields long, and 340,000 square feet.
For all of its length and width, the shortfall in height is also accompanied by a lack of thickness. The foundation must be bolstered by an additional foot of concrete and walls will need to be a foot thicker than planned.
Changing designs this late in the game costs more and takes longer than correcting problems early in the design phase. Y-12 officials admit they do not know exactly how much the UPF will cost taxpayers. A new evaluation by engineers should be complete in about three weeks. At that time they may have a better idea of the time and money needed to finish the project.