I had a chance earlier this week to talk with Oak Ridge National Laboratory Thom Mason by phone for a story I’m doing on the Spallation Neutron Source (which recently achieved its design power of 1.4 megawatts). We also had an email exchange about the National Nuclear Security Administration’s appointment of Tim Driscoll as uranium czar (officially titled Uranium Program Manager).
Mason, of course, headed the Red Team that provided the NNSA with an alternative strategy for securing the uranium operations at Y-12 for the future, and Driscoll was a member of that team.
“Putting someone into the role of Uranium Program manager with overall responsibility for the different elements of the strategy was an important recommendation of the Review Team given the interdependencies between new builds, process relocations, and operational activities in the revised strategy,” Mason said. “Tim was a member of the review team and an active participant in the deliberations. As a result I think he is certainly not only familiar with the conclusions but vested in them to some extent.”
Mason said one reason for having a program official from NNSA headquarters on the Red Team was to develop some “buy in” for the results. “I guess we achieved that,” he noted.
As for one of the Red Team members being asked to play a key role in carrying out the recommendations, Mason joked that serving on a review panel always carries the risk that you’ll end up having to drink your own bathwater.
Recently, I heard a report that the NNSA may authorize a series of followup Red Team reviews — perhaps as often as every six months — to make sure the big uranium project stays on track with an affordable cost and a timeline that can get out of the World War II-era 9212 complex by 2025 at the latest. I asked Mason if he’d been approached about follow-up reviews.
“There hasn’t yet been any discussion about follow-up reviews but that doesn’t surprise me since they are still working through the implementation planning, etc., around the report, not to mention Y-12 contract transition,” he said. “I would anticipate that a follow-up review would involve some combination of prior members along with some fresh blood.”
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