One of the perceived benefits of the proposed Uranium Processing Facility is that it will bring new technologies to the tasks of processing highly enriched uranium, making the job safer for workers and much more efficient. But the Government Accountability Office, in a report prepared for the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, found there are still considerable uncertainties in the technology development.
According to the report, the National Nuclear Security Administration is developing 10 new technologies for use in the UPF — the Y-12 project that’s now estimated to cost as much as $6.5 billion. The UPF management team is using so-called TRLs (technology readiness levels) to “gauge the extent to which technologies have been demonstrated to work as intended,” the report said. However, the GAO found that NNSA does not expect all of the technologies to “achieve the level of maturity called for by best practices before making critical decisions.”
“For example,” the report said, “NNSA is developing a technology that combines multiple machining operations into a single, automated process–known as agile machining–but does not expect it to reach an optimal TRL until 18 months after one of UPF’s critical decisions–approval of a formal cost and schedule performance baseline–is made. In addition, DOE’s guidance for establishing optimal TRLs prior to beginning construction is not consistent with best practices or with our previous recommendations. As a result, 6 of 10 technologies NNSA is developing are not expected to reach optimum TRLs consistent with best practices by the time UPF construction begins. If critical technologies fail to work as intended, NNSA may need to revert to existing or alternate technologies, possibly resulting in changes to design plans and space requirements that could delay the project and increase costs.”
Here’s a link to the full report, “National Nuclear Security Administration’s Plans for Its Uranium Processing Facility Should Better Reflect Funding Estimates and Technology Readiness.” Here’s a page of highlights from the report.