The head of the U.S. government agency responsible for maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal says the need to anticipate future science and national security challenges will keep some Manhattan Project-era sites operating long into the future – and modernizing these sites will be key to sustaining the security of the U.S. and its allies.
The comments came from Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Undersecretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, during a recent panel discussion sponsored by Bechtel as part of the National Building Museum’s exhibit called Secret Cities: The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project. 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the Manhattan Project, the massive scientific and industrial effort to produce the world’s first two atomic weapons during World War II.
“These sites are alive and well,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “They will be around for 75 more years. More than 30% of our facilities were built during the Manhattan Project age. Our workers find ways to work around that to improve our national security. The administration and Congress are undertaking a major modernization program across the complex and our people deserve no less.”
The “secret cities” include Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and the Hanford Site in Washington state. Bechtel’s work for these sites has included environmental cleanup at Hanford and Oak Ridge, managing and operating the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 12 years, and managing and operating the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.
NNSA is the agency that dismantles U.S. nuclear weapons and ensures the remaining stockpile is safe, secure, and effective. The agency has been doing this without full-scale nuclear testing since 1992. A multi-billion-dollar modernization is underway to upgrade or replace decaying Manhattan Project or Cold War facilities. One such upgrade is the $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility that Bechtel is building at Y-12.
Peggy McCullough, a panel member and general manager of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security, and Operations business line, pointed to the spinoff technologies that come from national security science. One example: using a supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for quicker analysis of traumatic brain injuries.
“People would be amazed at how many of those things are happening where we’re tapping into a national security asset for the benefit of people everywhere,” McCullough said.
Secret Cities: The Architecture and Planning of the Manhattan Project has been extended through June 2019 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.
Video replay: Secret Cities: The Next 75 Years