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U.S. Senator to Press for Disclosure of Uranium Processing Proposal

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

Workers at the Y-12 National Security Complex in 2011 clean out a building slated for demolition. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) indicated he plans to press the Obama administration to publicly release details on a plan being developed as an alternative to a uranium-processing project planned at the Y-12 site. Workers at the Y-12 National Security Complex in 2011 clean out a building slated for demolition. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) indicated he plans to press the Obama administration to publicly release details on a plan being developed as an alternative to a uranium-processing project planned at the Y-12 site. (U.S. Energy Department photo)

A key U.S. senator plans to press Obama officials to circulate details on a weapon-uranium processing plan devised by a specially convened "Red Team."

A spokesman said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) will call on U.S. nuclear-arms managers to air "as much information as possible" on the draft proposal, which experts are developing as an alternative to a multibillion-dollar uranium complex planned in his state.

The "Red Team" began its review at the Y-12 National Security Complex last month. In prior years, efforts to plan a new Uranium Processing Facility at the Oak Ridge site have hit numerous delays and cost overruns.

"Senator Alexander wants to see the Uranium Processing Facility completed under budget and on time," spokesman Jim Jeffries told Global Security Newswire in an e-mailed response to questions.

"He plans to participate in an April 30 budget hearing that will be open to the public, and he will encourage the National Nuclear Security Administration to publicly release as much information as possible on the Red Team review without undermining national security."

Alexander's office issued the comments after a watchdog group in his state voiced concerns about the "secrecy" of the Red Team's work.

"When the secret Red Team completes its review, the results of that review must be made public," Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, told the lawmaker in a Tuesday letter.

The Red Team reportedly plans in coming weeks to revise its alternative plan for relocating bomb-uranium activities from a 1940s-era structure. Upon completion, the preliminary proposal would go to NNSA Acting Administrator Bruce Held for consideration.

Initial Energy Department estimates were for the Uranium Processing Facility to be built for no more than $1.1 billion. But the cost projections have grown more than sixfold, with some forecasting that the total could hit nearly $20 billion if the original plans were to go forward.

Hutchison said further scrutiny of the alternative uranium plan may be necessary to determine its environmental impact. However, he suggested that Held's agency -- a semi-independent Energy Department office in charge of U.S. nuclear-weapons operations -- would likely argue that the proposal is covered under the Y-12 facility's existing site-wide environmental impact statement.

"The public must be consulted in a meaningful way in planning for significant government actions," Hutchison wrote in the letter, first reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel. "It’s not just that the public is more willing to buy-in if it feels included -- it is that the decisions finally made are better decisions."

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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