By Richard Peters Jr., P.E., PMP, PWS, M.SAME, Courtney Branton, and Jeff Cravens  

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has a rich history at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and has been an integral partner in preparing it for the demands of the future. In 1942, Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, USA, was assigned to the (then) Top Secret Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. One of the locations selected for the corresponding research and production was Oak Ridge. In February 1943, construction of Y-12 began, and the Manhattan District headquarters moved to the site six months later.

Y-12’s mission was to provide enriched uranium in the quantities required for atomic bomb production. In a phenomenal undertaking, Y-12 started enrichment operations within 13 months of construction beginning and the complex ultimately provided the enriched uranium used to end World War II.


The mission of Y-12 has remained basically the same for 75 years, although uranium processing has replaced uranium enrichment. Every weapon in our nation’s nuclear arsenal has components manufactured, maintained, or ultimately dismantled at Y-12. The complex also provides uranium for naval reactors and medical research, and plays an essential role in weapons surveillance and nuclear non-proliferation. Even if we never made another nuclear weapon, America would still need Y-12.

Bridge and road work,part of the $65 million Site Readiness sub-project, Phase I of the $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility. NNSA PHOTOS


Most of the existing Y-12 facilities, however, are over 70 years old. More than 1.2-million-ft2 of Y-12’s mission critical facilities were originally built during the Manhattan Project and do not meet modern building codes and standards.

The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) will provide modern, code compliant, safe and secure facilities for long-term operations at Y-12. Fully authorized in early 2018, the $6.5 billion endeavor is one of the largest projects in Tennessee state history. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has committed to deliver UPF by the end of 2025.

The overall project (including some completed work) consists of seven sub-projects: Site Readiness; Site Infrastructure & Services; Substation, Mechanical Electrical Building; Salvage & Accountability Building; Main Process Building; and Process Support Facilities. One of the key considerations during sub-project development was defining the boundaries between nuclear and non-nuclear construction.

The first two sub-projects, Site Readiness and Site Infrastructure & Services, did not require nuclear construction and prepared the Y-12 infrastructure for the main UPF campus. They were successfully completed in partnership with USACE. The Electrical Substation, which is approximately 50 percent complete, also has not required nuclear construction. The Tennessee Valley Authority is managing this sub-project.

The remaining sub-projects require nuclear construction and/or interface with nuclear structures, systems or components. The NNSA Management & Operating contractor responsible for Y-12 is managing the remaining scope.


Early in the UPF project planning cycle, NNSA was pursuing opportunities to competitively bid non-nuclear construction. The agency approached USACE for assistance, given the Corps’ robust acquisition and construction management experience. USACE Huntington District was very receptive and partnered with NNSA to draft a customized Interagency Agreement to provide a full suite of services. The first tasks under this agreement were to conduct an Independent Cost Estimate and Cost Reconciliation for the overall project. USACE completed these by early 2011, ultimately helping to secure congressional approval for the UPF cost range.

A new Concrete Batch Plant was part of the scope for the $78 million Site Infrastructure & Services sub-project.

NNSA received authorization to begin construction on the Site Readiness sub-project in early 2013. Total cost was $65 million. The scope consisted of relocating Y-12’s main road, waterlines and electrical services; building a construction haul road and the corresponding bridge overpass; and preparing spoil areas to receive excess soils from the main UPF campus. This sub-project was designed under the Management & Operating contract that was a cost reimbursable, incentivized fee mechanism primarily crafted to operate and maintain Y-12. NNSA, recognizing the potential efficiencies and risk mitigation afforded by fixed unit rate contracting, decided to consider an alternative acquisition strategy for Site Readiness. The comprehensive NNSA/USACE Interagency Agreement provided the ideal gateway for execution.

NNSA initially tasked USACE to perform a Bidability, Constructability, Operability, Environmental and Sustainability Review of the furnished design. This review revealed the additional work required to upgrade the design to the maturity required for a fixed unit rate construction solicitation. While the team worked on this, NNSA and USACE held partnering meetings to define interfaces, clarify expectations, and learn each other’s governing procedures. Acquisition professionals refined the Interagency Agreement specifically for UPF project acquisition and construction, focusing strategically on a long-term partnership.

Because USACE Nashville District has geographic responsibility for Oak Ridge, it was engaged by Huntington District for the work, though Huntington retained overall program management responsibility. NNSA facilitated a joint visit with Nashville District to the NNSA Pantex site in Texas, where the same partners were engaged in a similar relationship on the High Explosive Pressing Facility project. The team returned to Y-12 with 18 specific actions based on lessons learned, one of which was for NNSA to participate in the USACE source selection board for the Site Readiness sub-project solicitation. NNSA implemented this lesson—providing valuable insight on Y-12 political, ecological and operating conditions. In April 2013, USACE awarded a fixed unit rate contract for approximately 50 percent of the Site Readiness scope to AVISCO Inc., a woman-owned small business.


The early phases of Site Readiness construction were a learning experience for all involved. It was challenging to efficiently integrate the USACE and Management & Operating contractor efforts. Both parties were accustomed to doing business only in accordance with their internal procedures. NNSA actively led (and often refereed) tactical integration efforts, and eventually hired two full-time equivalents, developed a detailed interface procedure, and directed USACE and the Management & Operating contractor to comply with the procedure.

Another challenge was aligning expectations between the two federal agencies: NNSA and USACE. NNSA expected a full-time USACE project manager to be on site, a full-time USACE quality assurance representative in the field, detailed weekly status reports and schedule updates, daily USACE quality assurance reports, and “by-name” reporting of all the USACE charges. It took several modifications to the Interagency Agreement to formalize these expectations, and increased the USACE supervisory and administration charges from the typical 6 percent to 20 percent of the fixed unit rate contract award value.

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., was first built in 1943 to support research and uranium processing.

By 2014, the Site Readiness sub-project team had moved through the forming and storming processes and had developed an efficient battle rhythm along with mutual respect and trust. In February 2015, the team completed the sub-project on schedule and more than $20 million under the total authorized cost, earning several noteworthy awards, including the Secretary of Energy Achievement Award; NNSA Environmental Stewardship Award; Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry Award; and Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award (Honorable Mention).


The success of the Site Readiness work paved the way for approval of the Site Infrastructure & Services sub-project. NNSA received authorization to begin construction in March 2015 at a total authorized cost of $78 million. The scope of work consisted of a Concrete Batch Plant, Construction Support Building, haul road security features, additional site grading, and utilities and building demolition.

NNSA once again engaged USACE through the comprehensive Interagency Agreement to acquire and manage fixed unit rate contracts for portions of the sub-project. This time, USACE awarded two fixed unit rate contracts for approximately 60 percent of the scope, including a design-build contract for the 60,000-ft² Construction Support Building.

The design-build acquisition and construction posed a new set of challenges for the team. USACE was the design agent, but the Management & Operating contractor retained design authority. Even though the Construction Support Building was non-nuclear construction, it required multiple interfaces with the operating Y-12 nuclear facility. Additionally, the building was to be the first LEED Gold-certified building at Y-12.

On Feb. 28, 2018, the Site Infrastructure & Services sub-project was completed two months ahead of schedule and more than $18 million under the total authorized cost.

The Site Infrastructure & Services Integrated Project Team implemented a number of tactics, techniques and procedures to meet the unique challenges it faced in achieving success.

  • Utilizing experienced leaders from the Site Readiness sub-project.
  • Requiring active NNSA and design authority participation in the USACE-led Construction Support Building design charrettes with detailed meeting minutes, action items and target completion dates.
  • Requiring formal design authority concurrence with USACE design deliverables at key milestones (30 percent, 60 percent, 90 percent, and final designs).
  • Formalizing the USACE contractor submittal process, including reviewing and concurring on the Submittal Register, line by line; defining the specific submittals requiring design authority concurrence; and incorporating approved submittals into the project record as they were completed.
  • Executing weekly status, schedule, and interface meetings led by the NNSA Federal (sub)Project Director.
  • Requiring “by name” reporting of labor charges to the USACE Interagency Agreement.
  • Executing a comprehensive Transition & Turnover Plan for the 14 distinct systems that interface with the Y-12 plant.


Leadership continuity is a force multiplier in effective interagency endeavors. Both NNSA and USACE leadership remained fairly consistent during the UPF Site Readiness and Site Infrastructure & Services sub-projects, including the NNSA construction manager and the USACE resident engineer. Key members of both sub-project teams were also consistent, including the NNSA construction integrator and the USACE project manager forward. And although contracting officers transitioned several times during the five years, they all focused on supporting the main effort with minimal administrative delays.

The NNSA Federal (sub)Project Director must lead and synergize all efforts during planning and construction, especially when the Integrated Project Team includes multiple partners and stakeholders. Clearly defined roles, responsibilities and authorities empower team members, while encouraging leadership facilitates optimum performance.

Construction schedules demand flexibility and agility to make timely, informed decisions. The Federal (sub)Project Director must have the contractual authority to enforce requirements and expectations, and must communicate expectations in a manner that they cannot be misunderstood. The individual also should encourage regular, honest feedback to facilitate open communication and understanding.


In March 2018, NNSA received authorization to begin construction on the major UPF production facilities. Each of these (Salvage & Accountability Building, Main Process Building, and Process Support Facilities) will be managed as an integrated UPF sub-project. Since all require nuclear construction and complex interfaces with Y-12, the current acquisition strategy is for the Management & Operating contractor to perform the work.

The NNSA/USACE partnership delivered safe, quality construction deliverables ahead of schedule and millions of dollars under budget—and favorably positioned NNSA for continued success on the comprehensive UPF project. The lessons learned during this experience have provided valuable insights for engaging in effective interagency partnerships.

Richard Peters Jr., P.E., PMP, PWS, M.SAME, is Site Infrastructure & Services Federal Project Director, Courtney Russell Branton is Management Support, and Jeff Cravens is Operations and Start-Up, Uranium Processing Facility Project Office, National Nuclear Security Administration. They can be reached at;; and

Article first published in the January-February 2019 issue of The Military Engineer.