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Weaknesses in integrating the different parts of the design team, establishing a footprint too early in the design process, and waiting too late to seek resources from outside the project contributed to the failure of the early design effort for the Uranium Processing Facility. That’s part of the response the National Nuclear Security Administration provided to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in a follow-up to questions raised during the board’s Oct. 2 field hearing in Knoxville, when the “space/fit” issues plaguing the multi-billion-dollar project became public.

At the October hearing, Federal Project Manager John Eschenberg and other officials from NNSA and the Y-12 National Security Complex were unable to explain fully why a design team—with up to 600 people and multiple companies—was unable to come up with a design that met the project’s needs. “I’ll be much more informed and can give you a much more informed answer in approximately 90 days,” Eschenberg responded to questions from DNFSB member Joe Bader.

Cost Impact of Issue: $539 Million

Eschenberg and the UPF staff later provided a follow-up response to identify the root causes of the problem, which—according to contractor B&W Y-12’s Fiscal Year 2012 Performance Evaluation Review—had a cost impact of $539 million. The DNFSB released the follow-up response as a part of a request from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, which sent a letter to the board earlier this year.

The NNSA said the team prematurely established a “footprint” for the big production center, which is estimated to cost up to $6.5 billion. The federal agency also acknowledged there was not sufficient integration of the many groups working on the design for the project. “NNSA has reviewed and assessed these areas: baseline change package; technical resolution of space/fit issues; and the circumstantial and mechanistic conditions that led to a late discovery of process equipment fit challenges,” the NNSA said in the response to the defense board. “The latter was conducted as an after-action fact finding review (AAFFR) of root cause analysis.”

The NNSA identified the root causes as:

— Premature establishment of the building footprint;

— Less than adequate integration between design groups (subcontractor to subcontractor, subcontractor to M&O and within the M&O);

— Late use of off-project resources to seek a solution;

— Ineffective risk management of known space margin risks;

— Ineffective space margin management;

— Poor management of a three-dimensional modeling tool that allowed multiple users without centralized control; and

— Weaknesses in systems engineering integration (processes and procedures).

To correct the problems, the NNSA told the Board that it had taken a number of actions, including:

— Establishing a “phased gate approach” to assess known risks to the size of the facility at pre-determined intervals prior to proceeding with successive design phases;

— Reevaluating and assessing the project’s risks and risk management database and upgrading its risk management program;

— Establishing a space margin management program; and

— Establishing a disciplined and formal process for three-dimensional model management.

The NNSA also said that contract transition activities represent “an opportune juncture” to upgrade systems engineering processes and procedures.

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