Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Uranium Processing Facility
The expansion of the Cold War-era Uranium Processing Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the third, “Most Dangerous and Budget-Busting Project,” on the Department of Energy’s agenda. While the original proposal was estimated to cost around $600 million in 2005, scheduling delays and construction conflicts have prolonged the expansion and tacked on additional costs making it the most expensive bomb plant in history. To make matters worse the NNSA said that it won’t have a definitive price tag until the facility’s design is 90 percent complete.
Between 2005 and 2010 the cost was not the only part of the program that changed. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s original justification for the urgency of the project was that the facility was, “essential to its ability to meet national security requirements regarding the nation’s nuclear deterrent.” The NNSA also claimed that the expansion was needed to maintain basic nuclear weapons capabilities.” Flash forward five years to 2010 and the new reasoning behind the project was to, “avoid the risks of intermittent shutdown associated with current facilities.” The drastic shift in the purpose of this program suggests that maybe the Uranium Processing Facility was not so urgent after all. Also, “to avoid being shutdown,” is not a particularly convincing argument to support the $6.5 billion project.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability recognizes an even greater fear for the Uranium Processing Facility expansion program: how it will affect our national identity. As a country that works to discourage the nuclear ambitions of other nations, we should not be building new nuclear weapon facilities on our own soil. Such a double standard could have severe implications for our diplomatic credibility and efforts towards nonproliferation.
So what is the alternative? The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability suggests several recommendations for how to move forward with this project in a way that is productive and beneficial to our national interest. Instead of upgrading the Uranium Processing Facility, the DOE should downsize operations and consider incorporating a dismantlement facility. In addition, Congress and the Obama Administration should thoughtfully reassess plans for uranium operations in a way that is realistic and practical for the future. Want more information on the Uranium Processing Facility? Check out this interesting Environmental Impact Statement from the Project on Government Oversight.