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Feds raise concerns over Uranium Processing Facility safety designs

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | August 17th, 2017 | By Brittany Crocker
Industry type: Nuclear Industry


The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has raised concerns over the revised designs for Y-12 National Security Complex’s Uranium Processing Facility.

The revised plans reportedly eliminate thermal barriers from the UPF design, according to the Board’s June 26 letter to National Nuclear Security Administrator Frank Klotz.

The thermal barriers, which existed in the original design, would protect fissile material from fire in the event of a facility fire or major seismic event.

In the absence of thermal barriers, a specialized fire suppression system is doubly important in preventing a nuclear criticality accident.

But, the board pointed out, the UPF’s proposed fire suppression system does not have the technical safety classification required to be surveyed and maintained in accordance with accepted nuclear facility standards.

In addition, the UPF fire suppression system’s diesel pumps were not classified in a category that would ensure they could function after a seismic event.

The board also found that the material glovebox windows were made of would melt or combust if exposed to fire, potentially allowing hazardous contamination.

An April 2017 Department of Energy Office of Enterprise Assessments report indicated that sprinklers that would be installed in high ceilings within the UPF may not be effective either.

NNSA Uranium Processing Facility Project Office spokesperson Courtney Branton declined comment on the facility’s fire safety provisions, saying the concerns were addressed to Klotz, who heads up the Administration the project office works for.

The Uranium Processing Facility’s construction is expected to begin next year, but the NNSA has kept mum about the design plans, though they are expected to reach the 90 percent completion point required to begin construction by this September.

Officials have not specified how far along the plans are now. The NNSA has not specified why information on the site design progress is being withheld.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced in June that the project is on track and under its $6.5 billion budget cap, a tenfold increase from the initial project budget of $650 million.