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The ‘Red Team’ that’s looking for affordable alternatives to the Uranium Processing Facility is expected to have their recommendations to the National Nuclear Security Administration by mid-April, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, who’s heading the team. Mason said those are his “marching orders” from NNSA Acting Administrator Bruce Held, who authorized the team and asked Mason to head it. The team will involve two-to-three dozen experts drawn from the Department of Energy’s complex of NNSA labs, as well as its Energy and Design Labs.

Mason outlined the assignment last week to his fellow lab directors at a meeting in Denver and then met with Held to give him a briefing on the plans to date. Later in the week, Mason also got his first up-close look at Building 9212, the antiquated and dilapidated facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant that is main argument for building a multibillion- dollar UPF or some other facility with comparable capabilities. Mason hasn’t released the names of people on the Red Team, but he said he had a long list of candidates. He said the team will include experts in things such as process chemistry, security, nuclear safety, criticality, project management and civil construction. The team will be put together this month and be provided background materials, with work to begin in earnest in March to evaluate the Y-12 uranium missions from every angle. “Fortunately, there has already been extensive reviews and studies done, and we’re planning to make use of the documentation that’s out there and try not to reinvent the wheel,” Mason said.

Parallels With CMRR-NF?

Held apparently will kick off the review later this month on a video conference with members of the Red Team. Mason said the team member will spend some time at Y-12, familiarizing themselves with the work done there and seeing how it’s done before returning home to ponder the issues, the problems and the possible solutions. “I think it’s essential for people to get into the facilities and see things firsthand,” Mason said.

Mason said the team will include top-level officials from Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia as well as ORNL and the other Science and Energy labs. Clearances will be needed in order to fully engage the Y-12 work, he said. Asked about reports that the UPF alternative could be smaller, modular operations to modernize the Y-12 work on an as-needed basis, Mason noted that the modular strategy is an element of the reevaluated Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos. He said there may be lessons-learned elements from CMRR that may be useful in evaluating alternatives to the UPF.

No Resentment Noticed

However, Mason also said there are important differences between Los Alamos and Y-12, especially as regards the existing infrastructure. There are options in play at Los Alamos that are not in play at Y-12, he said. Some observers have suggested that the national lab team may be viewed as outsiders and not get a hero’s welcome at Y-12, where work on UPF has been underway for many years. Mason said he didn’t expect any resentment. “Certainly, everyone I’ve spoken with so far at Y-12, both on the federal side and also on the contractor side of the equation, has been very supportive,” he said. “I haven’t gotten any sense of any kind of resentment or anything.”

He added: “The important thing to remember about all of this is we’re not being directed to kind of switch off modernization at Y-12. Everyone I’ve spoken to, all the way up to Bruce Held, is very clear that we need a strategy that gets us out of some of these facilities and into facilities that do meet the modern expectation in terms of safety and security.”

‘I Don’t Think There’s a Miracle’

The goal will be to find out what can be done within the projected cost range of $4.2 billion to $6.5 billion, rather than some of the more recent estimates that have topped $10 billion. “We’re still talking about a major investment in new infrastructure,” Mason said. He said it would probably be unrealistic to think the review will resolve all the issues facing UPF or tell the NNSA exactly how it should be done. “I don’t think there’s a miracle that sort of says we can do absolutely everything that the UPF was going to accomplish at a fraction of the proposed cost,” he said. —From staff reports

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