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'Red Team' Proposes Splitting Up Uranium Work Among Existing Y-12 Sites

A much-anticipated expert plan for modernizing uranium operations at the Y-12 complex calls for dispersing some of the work among existing facilities.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration on Thursday published the report written by a specially convened "Red Team." The panel was tasked with examining cost-saving alternatives to the current plan of building a 340,000-square-foot Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex, located near Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The primary objectives of the Red Team were to come up with a path that would permit Y-12 to shift uranium processing work out of the decades-old "9212" building no later than 2025, and at a cost of no more than $6.5 billion. Rather than building the "big box" UPF complex that would house all uranium activities, the analysis recommends some work be shifted into the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, which was built several years ago, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

Other processing work could be handed over to two other Y-12 buildings: the "9215" building where some uranium-machining work currently takes place, and to "Beta-2E," where warhead components are put together and checked for quality, the report said.

The Red Team of specialists -- culled from various scientific and management backgrounds -- foresees that some new facilities would still need to be built at Y-12, particularly in order to handle uranium-casting activities that require tight security. However, those facilities would not have to be nearly as big as the buildings envisioned for the Uranium Processing Facility.

For its plan to be successful, the Red Team suggests a "senior career executive" from the Energy Department be selected to take charge of the project rather than a political appointee.

National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Josh McConaha said the agency was still reviewing the report, after receiving it two weeks ago.

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance was sharply critical of the report, calling it in a news bulletin a "recipe for disaster." The anti-nuclear advocacy group said it was skeptical the Red Team plan could be implemented given the semiautonomous Energy Department branch's spotty track record overseeing other expensive and complicated atomic-weapon projects.

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