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Team Closes In on New Plan for Processing U.S. Bomb-Usable Uranium

A crewman works to dismantle an aging guard tower in 2011 at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. A review panel reportedly has reached agreement on a potential alternative to building the proposed Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee. A crewman works to dismantle an aging guard tower in 2011 at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee. A review panel reportedly has reached agreement on a potential alternative to building the proposed Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee. (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo)

A key official said his team has reached "strong consensus" on a potential substitute for a planned bomb-uranium plant, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said his "Red Team" of roughly two dozen specialists would put forward a single alternate proposal for housing operations now slated for transfer to the still-unbuilt Uranium Processing Facility, or "UPF" for short.

"Now whether or not it's better, that will be the judgment of the [National Nuclear Security Administration]," he told the News Sentinel on Monday. The uranium plant has been slated for construction at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, but the site's projected price tag has risen dramatically over the atomic agency's initial estimate from a decade ago.

"The UPF concept had a lot of attractive options in terms of the maximum consolidation [of uranium operations], minimum footprint, operational flexibility from getting everything in one facility. And, in some of those dimensions, almost anything else is going to be less optimum," Mason said.

He added, though, that his group saw a need for "urgency" in moving sensitive bomb-processing operations out of the Y-12 facility's aging "9212" building, where they risk delays if the site encounters problems. Mason's team is expected to present a proposal that could be executed by 2025, at a cost not exceeding $6.5 billion.

"Part of the challenge with the UPF as it's currently configured is it's large and expensive. Because of that, it takes a long time. You have to keep in the [existing facilities] for longer than you like," Mason said.

The official said his group would spend the coming two weeks preparing a summary of its proposal for submission to NNSA Acting Administrator Bruce Held. He stressed that further work would be necessary to flesh out the findings.

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