The Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are up to their old tricks again, convincing Congress and taxpayers alike to spend billions of dollars on yet another poorly designed and mismanaged construction project. This time it’s the Uranium Capabilities Replacement Project, formerly known as the Uranium Processing Facility, at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The new facility would replace several uranium operations facilities at Y-12, but cost overruns and construction delays—not to mention concerns about the design and mission of the project—should have the NNSA scrambling to find alternatives to this mutibillion-dollar boondoggle.
When the project was first sold to the Congress in 2006, it was expected to cost between $600 million and $1 billion and to be completed in 2018. But as with so many Energy Department projects before it, poor contractor oversight and inaccurate cost estimates contributed to astonishing cost increases and schedule delays. After it was discovered in late 2012 that the facility’s ceiling would have to be raised by 13 feet to accommodate the uranium processing equipment that would go inside it, $500 million was added to the price tag for re-design, and the project was delayed 13 months. And this is just one extra cost; the Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the facility will eventually cost between $6.5 billion and $11.6 billion. Shockingly, it is not expected to be fully operational until 2038.
It is time for alternatives to be fully explored. The Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, has the capacity to take on one of the most important missions of the would-be Uranium Capabilities Replacement Project: the recertification of highly enriched uranium secondaries, a key component of a nuclear warhead.