- Washington Guardian - Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Imagine spending your life savings to design your dream home, only to discover your blueprint was too small to fit all your furniture and family.

That’s essentially what the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration did, leaving taxpayers with a jaw-dropping bill and nothing to show for it yet.

NNSA, which oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal and nuclear weapons research, already has spent a half-billion dollars mapping out a new uranium processing building at its Y-12 weapons plant in Oak-Ridge, Tenn., only to discover the 340,000 square foot building it designed wasn’t big enough to house the equipment it owns.

So $500 million into the planning stage, officials admitted they have to go back to the drawing board.

For spending so much money without erecting a single wall, the NNSA wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian to the worst examples of government waste and misspending.

NNSA spokesman Steve Wyatt said the Uranium Processing Facility is a unqiue and complex building.

“In recent months, as the design has progressed, we have identified some space-fit issues associated with equipment intended for this facility,” he said.  “This will require some additional design work to accommodate these changes. Currently, NNSA is reviewing a proposed UPF redesign approach.  This effort is underway to ensure that we are satisfied with the solution to the space-fit issue, that it will meet our programmatic objectives and that this new approach represents the best value for the U.S. Government.”

A statement on Y-12’s website said that “UPF will replace a World War II-era system by consolidating enriched uranium operations, including assembly, disassembly, and dismantlement of nuclear weapons components.  It is a key piece of NNSA’s future. It is projected to be the largest construction project in Tennessee history, and design of the UPF is approximately two-thirds complete with construction planned to begin this spring.”

To put the $500 million number in perspective, that’s enough money to buy 12 F-18a fighter jets.  The final price tag for the building - once construction is finally completed - could be as high as $6.5 billion.

The project reported the roof will need to be raised an additional 13 feet.  Plus, to meet safety concerns, the wall thickness would need to be expanded from 18 inches to 30 inches and another foot of concrete added to the building’s base.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board staff member Steven Stokes expressed concern about the problems the redesigning might bring.

“This redesign of UPF as it neared final design is a serious undertaking with the potential for significant impacts on public and worker safety,” he said.

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