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While the Republican debate revs up on whether the Obama Administration is living up to its commitments on modernization of the nuclear weapons complex, a counter campaign is being waged against the Uranium Processing Facility, the big project that has the Administration’s support. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance is ramping up its long-standing work against the Uranium Processing Facility, citing increased safety concerns and runaway costs for the project that the activist group insists is unneeded. In recent days, the alliance released a seven-page letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) urging him to help slow the fast-track construction of UPF and reduce the Administration’s request for $340 million in Fiscal Year 2013 to jump-start the construction project that’s been billed at the biggest in Tennessee history and perhaps the biggest in Department of Energy history. “There is a rush to build a supersized, superpriced UPF, and everything else is being shoved under the bus—fiscal responsibility, safety, jobs, you name it,” OREPA Coordinator Ralph Hutchison said in a statement released with the Alexander letter.

Hutchinson suggested that there was no “urgent” need for immediate construction. “Existing facilities at Y-12 can and will continue to meet stockpile surveillance, maintenance and life extension requirements for the foreseeable future,” the letter states. “The UPF will provide no additional services beyond those currently available at Building 9212 and ongoing modernization of Building 9212—more than $100 million spent in the last five years to meet current seismic, environmental, health and safety standards— will provide increasing levels of assurance that mission requirements will continue to be met at Y12.”

Peace Group: 9212 Still Capable of Meeting Mission

The peace group said claims made during the early stages of the project that the facility was “essential to meet national security requirements” and “needed to maintain basic nuclear weapons capabilities” have been superseded. “In 2010, the need for the UPF was downgraded from ‘needed to maintain basic nuclear weapons capabilities’ to needed to ‘avoid intermittent shutdowns associated with current facilities,” Hutchison wrote. “When it was first proposed in 2005, the occupancy date was 2016—the construction schedule reflected the concern that Building 9212 was deteriorating. Since then, more than half a billion dollars has been spent on design plans for the UPF, and design completion has only reached 70%. The occupancy date for UPF has been pushed out to 2024 and is likely to slide further into the future. Yet there is no panic. Why? Because the upgraded Building 9212 is capable of doing the small amount of work required to maintain the U.S. stockpile in a safe, secure and reliable status.”

Asked for comment on the letter, Alexander’s office in Washington said the senator had not yet received OREPA’s message but looked forward to reviewing its recommendations. “I am committed to seeing the UPF facility completed safely, cost-effectively, and as soon as possible so that hundreds of workers who are doing critical national-security work can be moved out of a very unsafe building,” Alexander said. “As the design is completed over the next several months, I expect any safety issues to be addressed and incorporated into the final design.” —From staff reports

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