NNSA takes action to address uranium processing safety concerns

The National Nuclear Security Administration took multiple steps to address safety concerns related to the construction of its Uranium Processing Facility, the Government Accountability Office said on Friday.

The GAO conducted its quarterly report on the UPF to determine the actions taken by the NNSA to address safety concerns raised by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board. The GAO reports quarterly on the UPF in accordance with the requirements in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.

The NNSA combined two major project milestones to expedite the construction of the UPF in 2009. The following year, the Safety Board, an independent executive branch agency that assesses safety conditions at Department of Energy defense nuclear facilities, raised concerns about the NNSA's plan to develop alternative safety documentation while constructing the facility.

The NNSA took action to follow the established process in 2011. The Safety Board found that corrective actions taken by the NNSA addressed many of its concerns.

The Safety Board identified in June 15 safety concerns with the UPF's design. The NNSA agreed to take action to address 14 of the concerns.

Both Safety Board staff and NNSA officials agreed that none of the 15 concerns should prevent the UPF from reaching its next scheduled project management milestone in 2015. The NNSA is also reviewing an August 26 letter sent by the Safety Board that identified 12 additional safety concerns.

Officials with the NNSA also found that UPF's project team will need to conduct and document additional safety analyses related to a plan to defer the installation of some uranium processing capabilities into the facility after the UPF is operational. Such analyses will make sure that modifications to an operational nuclear facility meet the DOE's safety requirements.

The GAO did not find the need to make any recommendations for congressional consideration or agency action after conducting the report.