Designs for Y-12 Uranium Processing Plant Found to be Too Small

Blueprints for the planned Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee must be retooled after it was discovered existing plans do not provide adequate space for all of the intended machinery and production activities, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Tuesday.

The currently planned 340,000-square-foot facility is intended to take over the duties handled by the aging 9212 highly enriched uranium processing center and other decades-old facilities that support U.S. nuclear-weapon operations. Planning for the new uranium facility has already consumed $500 million and construction has yet to begin.

Estimates for the final price tag range from $4.2 billion to $6.5 billion. It is not known at this point how much the needed redesign will affect the total project price.

The need for a redesign of the UPF building raises additional questions about the safety of the project, according to Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staffer Steven Stokes.

"This redesign of UPF as it neared final design is a serious undertaking with the potential for significant impacts on public and worker safety," Stokes said at a Tuesday board hearing.

Fixing the problem is likely to further delay the project and increase its expense, Stokes suggested.

Under the redesign, a special glovebox that would have aided Y-12 personnel in safely handling uranium is to be canceled, according to Stokes.

The board is worried the uranium complex will be confronted with additional challenges as safety concerns were not given adequate consideration in the initial stages of planning, panel Chairman Peter Winokur said.

Uranium Processing Facility federal project director John Eschenberg said the top of the site would have to be made an additional 13 feet higher in order to provide enough room for envisioned activities. Raising the roof would make the project more expensive, he later admitted.

An additional 12 inches of concrete will need to be added to the building's foundation and the exterior walls would need to be increased from 18 inches to 30 inches, Eschenberg said.

The Energy Department has not yet figured out why the current designs did not plan for all of the space required to fulfill the facility's mission. "The project prematurely established a hard footprint," according to Eschenberg.

Further details on how the project will be changed as a result of the redesign will be shared in roughly three weeks once an engineering assessment is finished, he said.

October 3, 2012
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Blueprints for the planned Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee must be retooled after it was discovered existing plans do not provide adequate space for all of the intended machinery and production activities, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported on Tuesday.

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