Save the Uranium-233: Current Status

According to the DOE-EM 2011 budget request (page 14):

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory maintains the Department’s inventory of Uranium-233 (U-233), which is currently stored in Building 3019. The FY 2011 funding request will continue design of a project that processes the U-233 material in preparation for future disposal. Benefits include reducing safeguards and security requirements and eliminating long-term worker safety and criticality concerns. Recent discoveries of structural integrity issues with Building 3019 and determination that a portion of the U-233 is unsuitable for disposal at WIPP will require significant design changes to the facility. EM plans to continue the design effort through 90 percent design in FY 2011. At that point, a new baseline for construction and operations will be established. This will ensure that the construction estimate will have the accuracy necessary to complete the project on schedule and within budget.

Basically DOE-EM wants to get rid of this material so they don’t have to guard a building at Oak Ridge anymore. But it gets worse:

Here’s the monetary stats on this project, according to a table on page 65 of the budget plan:

Site: Oak Ridge Reservation
PBS Field Code: OR-0011Z
PBS Name: Downblend of U-233 in Building 3019
Prior Costs FY 97-2009: $138.809M
FY10 and Remaining Cost (Low Range): $222.040M
FY10 and Remaining Cost (High Range): $246.012M
Lifecycle Cost (Low Range): $360.849M
Lifecycle Cost (High Range): $384.821M

It’s not too late to save the uranium-233. Despite spending $130 million, the effort to actually destroy the U-233 really hasn’t begun yet. Never have I rooted so hard for a government contractor to go slow and perform poorly!

From page 132:

U-233 Downblend Contract: The contract for U-233 downblending and Building 3019 shutdown was awarded to Isotek Systems, LLC in October 2003, originally managed by the Office of Nuclear Energy Congress directed the Department in the FY 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Act to transfer the management of this project to the Office of Environmental Management and to terminate the medical isotope production. The contract has been revised accordingly. Phase I covered planning and design, which was completed in July of 2007. The current contracting schedule is for enhanced 90% design, in which a detailed cost proposal will be provided with a revised baseline and data sheet.

FY 2009: $58M
FY 2010: $38.9
FY 2011: $50M

Here’s the “detailed justification” of the U-233 destruction project on pages 134-135:

OR-0011Z / Downblend of U-233 in Building 3019

Oak Ridge maintains DOE inventory of Uranium-233 (U-233) currently stored in Building 3019 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. U-233 is a special nuclear material which requires strict safeguards and security controls to protect against access. The primary objectives of this project are to: 1) eliminate safety and nuclear criticality concerns; and 2) place the material for disposal. Treating the U-233 inventory as expeditiously as possible will reduce the substantial annual costs associated with safeguards and security requirements, which are funded by the Office of Science. Further, the risk of a nuclear criticality event will be eliminated as well as the need for future facility upgrades to Building 3019 to
ensure safe storage of the inventory.

In addition, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board issued Recommendation 97-1, Safe Storage of Uranium-233, that identified concerns related to long-term storage of the inventory in Building 3019. The U-233 Project received approval of the performance baseline (Critical Decision 2) and limited construction/dismantling (Critical Decision 3A) on May 25, 2007. A datasheet for the operating expense-funded project is provided after the Explanation of Funding Changes.

In FY 2011, the following activities are planned:

  • Maintain compliance with requirements at the appropriate waste disposal site for U-233, which requires Category 1 Security and compliance with10 Code of Federal Regulations 830 and 835.
  • Complete the 90% Design for construction of annex and building 3019 modifications
  • Complete dismantlement of Cell 1, Cell 2, Building 3136, and Building 3074 and to support the construction of the downblending process.

Key Accomplishments (FY 2009)/Planned Milestones (FY 2010/FY 2011)

  • Finalize 60% design of U-233 down-blending equipment and Building 3019 modifications (FY 2009)
  • Continue Design for construction of annex and building 3019 modifications (September 2010)
  • Continue surveillance and maintenance at U-233 to maintain a safe condition (September 2010/September 2011)
  • Complete 90% Design for construction of annex and building 3019 modifications (September 2011)
  • Obtain Critical Decision-3B from EM-1 to allow construction of the downblending process (September 2011)