Trump budget increases funding for nuclear bomb plant in Oak Ridge

By Ralph Hutchison.

          The Trump Administration’s budget, released Tuesday, May 23, includes a whopping 15% increase for the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While funding for health care, food assistance and other anti-poverty programs face massive cuts—as much as a trillion dollars over the next ten years—the UPF bomb plant would receive $663 million in FY2018.

            “The budget could not be clearer. The trillion dollar modernization of the nuclear weapons complex, starting with the UPF bomb plant, will be paid for by the poorest of the poor and those whose voice can most easily be ignored by our leaders in Congress,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance.

            To date, more than $3 billion has been spent on the design of the UPF bomb plant, a project that has been plagued by gross mismanagement and major cost overruns unchecked by Congress.

            “The UPF is protected in Congress by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN),” said Hutchison. “Early on, we had information about the cost and schedule for the UPF. When the project ran into trouble, the National Nuclear Security Administration decided not to stop releasing information. Over the last three years, the project has eaten up more than a billion tax dollars without accounting publicly for one single penny.”

            The UPF’s troubles began in 2012 when designers reached the 85% design-completion point and realized the facility was not big enough to hold all the equipment it would need. The “space/fit” problem ended up costing taxpayers $537 million. Senator Alexander, chair of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, rebuffed calls by the public to hold hearings or conduct an investigation into the fiasco. Instead, the UPF received an increase in the following year’s budget. No officials were held accountable.

            “What followed was predictable,” said Hutchison. “The UPF project pushed on with a new design that was also eventually scrapped when outside agencies—the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Defense—did their own cost estimates and said the building would cost two or three times the NNSA estimate. When the pricetag reached $19.8 billion, it was back to the drawing board.”

            From that point on, Senator Alexander has held secret meetings with Bechtel representatives and project managers. Repeated efforts by the public have been met with stony silence or a vague assurance by Alexander that the project was “on time and on budget.” Alexander insists the project will cost less than $6.5 billion overall and will be finished by 2025.

            OREPA has learned from sources close to the project that there is, in fact, no credible budget for the UPF project, and no detailed schedule for construction that would support Alexander’s assertions.

            “Taxpayers deserve better,” said Hutchison. “Congress should stop funding on the UPF until a real design is produced and an independent—from outside the DOE—cost estimate is produced. In the meantime, one other huge question should be answered: whether there is any need at al for the UPF bomb plant.”

            The United States is required by international treaty to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpiles and, ultimately, to disarm. “We signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1969,” said Hutchison, “and it was ratified by the Senate, and entered into force in 1970. This past Monday, the United Nations released draft language for a Treaty that would ban nuclear weapons altogether.”

            The mission of the UPF bomb plant, initially planned to house all Enriched Uranium operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, TN, has been scaled back. The current proposed UPF will have one mission: to manufacture thermonuclear cores for US nuclear bombs and warheads. It will have a throughput capacity of 80 warheads per year. In 2011, the NNSA noted in its Y-12 Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement that it could fulfill its mission requirement to assure a safe, secure and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile with a throughput capacity of less than 10 warheads per year.

            “Why are taxpayers paying to build a bomb plant with a 700% excess capacity?” asked Hutchison.

for more information: Ralph Hutchison  865 776 5050

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