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'Red Team' Proposals to Guide Warhead Plant's Overhaul

Personnel handle sensitive substances at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, in this undated photo. The National Nuclear Security Administration confirmed on Wednesday that it had decided to go with an alternative plan for updating uranium-processing operations at the complex. Personnel handle sensitive substances at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, in this undated photo. The National Nuclear Security Administration confirmed on Wednesday that it had decided to go with an alternative plan for updating uranium-processing operations at the complex. (U.S. Energy Department photo)

The U.S. government has decided to go with an alternative plan for updating uranium-processing activities at one of its key nuclear weapon facilities.

Frank Klotz, who heads the National Nuclear Security Administration, told the Knoxville News Sentinel on Wednesday that the agency intends to use a strategy recently developed by an independent "Red Team" as a starting point for how to rethink efforts to modernize uranium-processing work at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.

The previous strategy to construct a massive Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 fell into disfavor after the projected cost of the project rose from more than $1.1 billion to more than six times that amount by one estimate, and to nearly $19 billion by another estimate. The alternative approach put together by the Red Team proposes splitting up the work that would have been done by the new UPF complex into existing buildings and into a few smaller buildings that would need to be built. The plan envisions spending no more than $6.5 billion.

"I think there's almost nothing in that report that we disagree with," Klotz said in an interview.

The NNSA head said a "working group" is drafting a more specific plan for turning the recommendations of the Red Team into action orders that would "actually put in numbers, schedule, dates, [and] ferret out the contractual issues that have to be dealt with," Klotz said.

"That's on a pretty fast pace. I can't give you a prediction on when we'll have finished that process. But it's one of some urgency," he said.

Among its recommendations, the Red Team plan advises that new uranium-processing techniques be utilized that require a smaller amount of space. Another proposal is to potentially lower the quantity of scrap enriched uranium that is recycled through an expensive chemical process to obtain a comparatively small amount of reusable material.

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