Lack of Transparency Raises Serious Concerns about Planned Uranium Processing Facility

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November 5, 2014

Federal officials have refused to publicly release information about the cost and scope of a planned Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Tennessee, even as the project moves toward the design and construction phase.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has raised alarms about the scant details that have been revealed about the multi-billion dollar UPF project at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Last month, POGO wrote leaders on the House and Senate appropriations committees questioning both the cost and mission of the proposed facility, which would among other things manufacture components for nuclear warheads.

Since Congress approved the UPF project in 2005, costs have skyrocketed from $1 billion to potentially up to $19 billion, and delays have pushed the estimated completion back 12 years. The National Nuclear Security Administration is currently reevaluating the project, which will affect both the design and mission scope. POGO, as well as others, has criticized a “big box” facility and urged NNSA to consider moving operations to other buildings at Y-12 and in the complex and build a smaller facility if necessary.  

Because of the uncertainty about the final design and scope of the UPF, last week’s announcement that Bechtel National Inc. was awarded a subcontract to handle the UPF design and construction raises some serious concerns.  The National Nuclear Security Administration has not responded to requests from POGO for details about Bechtel’s role or updates on the cost and timeline for UPF completion.

Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS)—the contractor that manages the Y-12 complex—declined to answer questions about the changed scope or updated costs for the project but stated that Bechtel National’s involvement was part of the prime contract between CNS and the Administration.

Bechtel, which happens to be CNS’s parent company, has more than 19 instances of misconduct involving site management, construction or design, most notably the Department of Energy’s Vitrification Plant at the Hanford Site in Washington state.

“We’re very concerned that the NNSA is keeping the public in the dark about this questionable project,” said POGO senior investigator Peter Stockton. “There has not been an updated cost estimate or timeline released to the public and there are still questions about what mission capabilities will be required of the proposed UPF. I don’t have much confidence that this project is going to get any better if Bechtel is involved and being supervised by one of its subsidiaries. ”

Read POGO’s letter to Congress.

Follow the link to read POGO’s blog on the Bechtel contract.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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