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Senator Wants to Expand Use of 'Red Teams' for Nuclear Projects

A U.S. Senator on Wednesday suggested the Energy Department should expand a novel approach for finding alternative solutions to future nuclear projects.

A "Red Team" of experts in nuclear safety and security, management, construction and other fields is currently examining options for modernizing the work of processing highly enriched uranium at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. The special team was formed after an official department plan to build a new Uranium Processing Facility ran too far over budget and behind schedule.

"I may see light at the end of the tunnel on this way for us to do a better job of these massive construction projects that are eating up billions of dollars," Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was quoted by the Knoxville News Sentinel as saying.

The lawmaker said he plans to convene a special hearing that will examine the Red Team process after recommendations on overhauling uranium work at Y-12 are delivered. Depending on the results of the team's report, Alexander sees the possibility for applying similar approaches to other troubled projects managed by the department's National Nuclear Security Administration.

The imperiled mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility under construction in South Carolina could be subjected to a Red Team evaluation, Alexander suggested. The Energy Department wants to halt work on the mixed-oxide facility due to its excessive cost overruns, but officials have yet to announce a plan for disposing of the surplus weapons-grade plutonium that the plant was intended to turn into reactor fuel.

Separate NNSA projects for overhauling warheads that are anticipated to cost tens of billions of dollars could also benefit from the Red Team approach, the senator said.

"We need to get rid of these runaway costs," he said at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who was testifying, said he agreed there was room to expand the use of the Red Team process.

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