UPF changes won’t require environmental re-do; activist group objects to limited review

IMG_5723Because of scaled-down plans for the Uranium Processing Facility, reduced new construction to save money and modifications to old existing buildings to make them last longer, the National Nuclear Security Administration did a 54-page “supplement analysis” to the Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant that was conducted back in 2011.

According to the newly released report, the NNSA concluded that the identified and projected environmental impacts of the new plans for UPF would not “differ significantly” from those impacts identified in the 2011 report and do not require a more substantial makeover of the environmental studies.

“Based on the analysis in this SA (supplement analysis), the proposed action is adequately supported by existing National Environmental Policy Act documentation and consistent with (DOE rulemaking), the existing Record of Decision for the SWEIS can be amended, and no further NEPA documentation is required to implement the proposed action at Y-12,” the report’s summary stated.

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, which prodded the NNSA to do the supplement analysis, was not satisfied with the federal entity’s compliance of environmental requirements for the big changes in plans for the multibillion-dollar UPF.

The activist group in a statement released Monday called on the federal government to prepare a new Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Y-12 to fully address all the changes, including long-term extension of operations at production buildings known as Beta-2E and Building 9215.

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Impact Statement, said in a statement, “The decision to continue to press old, unsafe buildings into service for another 25 years has profound environmental consequences. It also raises questions about worker and public safety as well as mission integrity. The SA (supplement analysis) declares, without analyzing the environmental impacts in any way, that under the new proposal, the upgrade of existing facilities — which will be engaged in enriched uranium operations — will not meet current seismic standards.”

In the analysis on upgrades of existing facilities, the NNSA said it continues to “develop and refine” more specific information of the modifications to the existing facilities to improve worker health and safety and extend the lifetime of the old buildings. The upgrades include electrical upgrades, ventilation work, fire suppression improvements and replacement or upgrade of some process and laboratory equipment.

However, the report also noted, “With regard to seismic hazards, it would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade 50+ year old facilities to current seismic standards. As such, the plan is not to bring the long-range Y-12 (enriched uranium) facilities to current seismic standards, but to improve worker safety and reduce mission risk.”

NNSA said the construction activities for upgrading the existing facilities will take place over 6 years, concluding in Fiscal Year 2022.

Hutchison criticized that strategy, saying that giving workers hard hats and reducing the uranium inventory at the old buildings does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

More on this report later.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.