Oak Ridge Community Leaders Maintain Opposition to NNSA’s Push for Sole-Source Contract to Purify Highly Enriched Uranium
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (February 2, 2021) – Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch announced today that the City remains opposed to a plan by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to contract with a third-party vendor to perform uranium purification offsite at a location 125 miles away from the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
Mayor Gooch expressed strong concern about NNSA’s push to move the work outside the Oak Ridge region.
“The U.S. Government has invested billions of taxpayers’ dollars to modernize the Y-12 National Security Complex, with the highest levels of safeguards and security in place. The logistics and costs that would be required to provide safe and secure mobile transfers of the weapons-related materials to/from an off-site facility would result in unnecessary risks to our community and region, and would be extremely costly to our taxpayers,” said Gooch. “The proposed contract is the result of an unsolicited proposal and would result in significant economic loss to the greater Oak Ridge/Knoxville region. Our highly trained and skilled work force at Y-12 cannot be replicated and should continue to perform this national security work at the federal government’s state-of-the-art facilities under construction at Y-12. We appreciate Congressman Chuck Fleischmann's leadership in opposing this flawed plan. We strongly urge all of our congressional leadership to oppose this move.”
On November 25, 2020, NNSA informed Oak Ridge community leaders that the agency intends to issue a sole-source contract to Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) in Erwin, Tennessee. Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) processing and storage has been performed at the Y-12 National Security Complex for decades and this contract would divert a significant process at significant estimated expenses to an area outside of the highly secured Y-12 environment used for uranium purification.
Mike Thompson, President of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council (ATLC), represents more than 1,400 skilled workers at Y-12 including machinists, welders, chemical operators and electricians.
“A decision of this magnitude should not be made during a transition to new leadership at the federal level and pending the selection of a new contractor at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Issuing a sole-source contract for work to be performed by a company that may be involved in bidding on the Y-12 contract appears to be ill-timed,” said Thompson. “As demonstrated during the COVID crisis, our workforce has adjusted to changing conditions, circumstances, and requirements to succeed under the current conditions. Our members can and will continue to perform urgent national security work that should remain at Y-12.”
According to the NNSA statement: “Pending the results of the Phase 1, NNSA will determine if a Phase 2 contract will be awarded for HEU processing. If Phase 2 is pursued, NFS will provide uranium purification and conversion services during the ‘bridge’ period until Y-12 begins its production phase.”
Earlier, the U.S. Congress expressed reservations about the plan. Congress directed NNSA in its 2020 Appropriations Act to conduct an independent review of all options prior to beginning any work to convert uranium oxide to metal. The status of this review is unclear and not completed to the City's knowledge. As stated in the 2021 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, “Concerns persist that the NNSA's current plan is ahead of need and may not be the most efficient course of action. The agreement directs the NNSA to perform a business case analysis to include the capabilities of the national laboratories and plants to confirm the best value source is being used and to continue efforts to mature and deploy direct electrolytic reduction technology.”