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Watchdogs Press U.S. on Risks of Uranium-Processing Revamp

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

Women operating calutrons in the 1940s to enrich uranium at the Y-12 facility in Tennessee, used in part for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. More than 30 watchdog organizations on Thursday pressed the Obama administration to examine potential dangers of a concept for redistributing its weapon-uranium processing operations. Women operating calutrons in the 1940s to enrich uranium at the Y-12 facility in Tennessee, used in part for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. More than 30 watchdog organizations on Thursday pressed the Obama administration to examine potential dangers of a concept for redistributing its weapon-uranium processing operations. (Y-12 photo/Flickr)

Activists are urging Washington to study possible risks from a plan for dispersing bomb-uranium activities that previously were to be housed in a single facility.

A coalition of more than 30 watchdog groups on Thursday said the Energy Department's nuclear-weapons agency is required by law to develop a new "site-wide environmental impact statement" for the proposal, devised this year by an independent "Red Team" as an alternative to the Uranium Processing Facility project in Tennessee.

The "UPF" effort faced years of delays, as design expenses mounted and cost estimates ballooned by billions of dollars. Substantial construction at the Y-12 National Security Complex ultimately never began.

"Failure to execute a successful design of the UPF in the first, flawed attempts has already cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars. Further mistakes in the project could cause significant safety risks and more wasted taxpayers' dollars," the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability argued in a letter to National Nuclear Security Administration head Frank Klotz.

The U.S. atomic agency last month said it plans to follow the "Red Team" guidelines, which advise using current Y-12 infrastructure to help contain costs and move onsite uranium operations out of the facility's decades-old "9212" structure. The alternative project reportedly is intended to cap costs at $6.5 billion.

The activists, though, implored Klotz to look beyond the independent recommendations devised this year.

"We urge you to take the time to fully investigate the range of possibilities, even beyond the Red Team's recommendations, to set a course that will best serve the nation, not only by saving money, but by preparing to meet future mission requirements in the most effective and efficient way," they wrote in the letter, first reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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