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New concerns have been raised over the design work being performed for the Oak Ridge Uranium Processing Facility. According to a recently released Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staff report, the federal project chief on UPF sent a letter in March to Y-12 contractor B&W Y-12 that expressed concern “about how the UPF design is being controlled.” The letter, according to the board’s March 29 report, cited four key issues:

— The project has not implemented an effective configuration management program for controlling the design and managing requirements;

— Design verification processes have allowed numerous errors in approved design documents;

— Corrective actions to prevent recurrence of problems have been ineffective in addressing the underlying causes; and

— There is no stand-alone baseline project Code of Record.

The DNFSB memo said the National Nuclear Security Administration’s UPF Project Office “noted some improvements from recently updated procedures, but their reviews indicate additional actions are required.” The NNSA letter reportedly directed B&W to submit a plan to address issues within a month, but the safety board memo said the contractor and the federal office have already agreed on corrective actions. It is unclear if the design control concerns cited in the DNFSB report contributed to B&W Y-12’s decision last month to bringing in a new project director for UPF. Retired Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, who held executive positions at Bechtel and formerly headed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The NNSA has not yet released the letter or the plans of corrective actions on the UPF design, and did not respond to requests for comment this week.

The design of the Uranium Processing Facility has attracted scrutiny from the get-go, with some groups, notably the Project On Government Oversight, questioning plans to be build the high-security operation above ground. But the biggest news on the UPF design came out last year when the project team acknowledged that the design being worked on (and costing about half a billion dollars) wasn’t big enough to accommodate all the needed equipment and processes and would have to be at least partly redone. So, the team went back to work, reportedly with better controls and oversight at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

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