The Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee today approved, by voice vote, an appropriations bill for FY 2016 that includes $430 million for the Uranium Processing Facility and an unprecedented funding level — $5.144 billion — for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science (where ORNL gets most of its research money).
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the subcommittee chairman, said the UPF funding was sufficient to keep the big project on schedule and on time. Alexander and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, have closely followed the multibillion project, received regular briefings from the project’s managers on evolving plans to keep the costs at an acceptable level, and generally offered bipartisan support.
In a conference call after the subcommittee’s approval of the bill (which will now go before the full Appropriations Committee), I asked Alexander about this week’s announcement that John Eschenberg, the federal project director at UPF for the past three years, is leaving federal service.
Alexander said Eschenberg was an essential part of the management team that got the big project under control. He thanked Eschenberg for tackling a project with “ballooning” costs and putting it in position to be completed on a firm date and within budget.
The Tennessee Republican said he expects Eschenberg’s successor to be “just as good” and will be held to the same standards and expectations as UPF moves forward.
Alexander emphasized the increase in funding for DOE’s Office of Science, which is one of the nation’s primary supporters of research in the physical sciences. He also stressed the bill’s funding for advanced supercomputer initiatives, including $104 million for the Summit supercomputer destined for ORNL and potentially the world’s fastest computer if it meets expectations.
On other Oak Ridge projects, Alexander said the bill includes $424 million for environmental cleanup activities in Oak Ridge and $9.4 million for a new mercury-treatment facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.
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