GAO REPORT ON OAK RIDGE BOMB PLANT PROJECT
CONFIRMS CITIZEN CONCERNS: NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION WILL SPEND BILLIONS ON BOMB OPERATIONS, BUT WILL NOT BRING FACILITIES INTO COMPLIANCE WITH SAFETY CODES
8 September 2017
The Government Accountability Office today released a report reviewing the National Nuclear Security Administration’s troubled Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The GAO found that continued enriched uranium operations in support of nuclear weapons programs at the Y-12 National Security Complex place the public at significant risk and will continue to do so for at least twenty years.
Regarding Building 9212, the report states: “All of the various support and storage facilities of Building 9212 contain radioactive and chemical materials in sufficient quantities that an unmitigated release would result in significant consequences. These facilities do not meet current safety requirements for such facilities in that they cannot withstand a seismic event, high wind event, or aircraft crash.” (p.7)
The GAO report provides a peek behind the curtain that has shrouded the UPF project in secrecy since 2014. Neither the NNSA, the Department of Energy, nor Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate subcommittee with oversight of the UPF project, has been willing to provide the public with substantive information about the costs or schedule of the UPF Project beyond vague assurances.
Among the implications of the report’s significant findings:
• The NNSA has no idea how much the modernization of enriched uranium operations at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex will cost.
“NNSA Has Not Developed a Complete Scope of Work, Life-Cycle Cost Estimate, and Integrated Master Schedule for Its Overall Uranium Program.” (p.22)
• Existing cost estimates for the UPF Project are certain to exceed the $6.5 billion cap established by the Department of Energy and Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014 when soaring cost estimates brought the UPF under criticism.
“Selected Critical Decision (CD) Milestones and Cost Estimates for New Uranium Processing Facility Subprojects” (Table, p. 22) This table provides unvalidated cost estimates for seven “subprojects” that make up the UPF which magically add up to $6,499,500,000 dollars—exactly $500,000 under Senator Alexander’s cap. They do not include improvements to existing buildings that are also part of the original scope of the UPF (see below). To date, prior to the beginning of construction, costs for the UPF project have exceeded $4 billion.
• Upgrades to operations to be conducted in existing facilities which were originally part of the UPF but are no longer included in the UPF budget will have a total life-cycle cost approaching $1 billion additional dollars.
“According to our analysis of information from NNSA documents and program officials, these program elements may cost nearly $1 billion over the next 2 decades.” (p.28)
• Even with the additional $1 billion in spending, some of the most dangerous of the facilities will not be brought into compliance with existing environmental, safety, or seismic codes.
“According to NNSA program officials, the planned infrastructure repairs and upgrade will address many, but not all, of the safety issues identified by the [Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety] board. For example, NNSA program officials stated they do not expect building 9215, which it expects to be in operations through the late 2030s, to meet all modern safety standards even with planned upgrades.” (p.24)
• While acknowledging that structural deficiencies in Building 9215 place workers and the public at risk, and realizing the need to address these safety deficiencies in 2014, NNSA has no timetable or schedule for making safety upgrades to the facility.
“NNSA officials said they have not fully developed the long-term scope of work to address safety issues that the board confirmed because much of this work depends on the results of upcoming seismic and structural assessments the agency expects to be conducted in or after fiscal year 2018. According to these officials, the need for these assessments was not apparent until after 2014.” (p.24)
“This report confirms the UPF continues to be a pig that is voraciously consuming tax dollars by the billions,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, a grassroots public interest organization that has been a watchdog of DOE’s Oak Ridge Operations since 1988. “Each year, the NNSA spends hundreds of millions of dollars on lipstick, but it is still a pig.
“Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say it is a wild boar, because it is uncontrolled by DOE standards and practices (which require full life-cycle planning of the entire project) and it is terribly dangerous. Both building 9212 and 9215 continue to be used by NNSA even though they fail to meet environmental and safety standards and present a clear and deadly risk to workers and the public.”
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC, on July 20, 2017 challenging NNSA’s failure to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act that requires federal agencies to conduct thorough environmental analyses of major projects and to engage the public in discourse throughout the process.
for more information: Ralph Hutchison, 865 776 5050; firstname.lastname@example.org