Materials shortages and labor productivity drove a two-year delay to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) next factory for nuclear-weapon secondary stages, the head of agency said Thursday.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties it created sourcing materials, “construction is just really hard in the United States now,” Jill Hruby, administrator of the NNSA, said in remarks to a virtual forum hosted by the Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance and the Hudson Institute.

Also, Hruby said, “productivity and our crafts and labor workforce was definitely down and in nuclear construction these are big deals because you have a lot of people, professionals, who have to check what the trades do and so as it drags out, the whole project drags out.”

Hruby was responding to questions from sister publication The Exchange Monitor about the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) which Bechtel National is building at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., under a subcontract to site prime Consolidated Nuclear Security, on which Bechtel is the senior partner.

In October, an NNSA official said that the UPF’s critical decision-4 milestone — the official end of construction, in DoE project-management rules — would be delayed by up to two years. The facility, which will process uranium into forms suitable for use in nuclear weapons and help pack the material into weapons’ secondary stages called canned subassemblies, was supposed to be built by Dec. 31, 2025 and cost no more than $6.5 billion.

The NNSA knew, and acknowledged, earlier this year that UPF’s schedule was slipping to the right, but the delay was ultimately much greater than what the agency figured in May, when Hruby testified in the Senate that critical decision four would be delayed eight months into 2026.

Meanwhile, with Consolidated Nuclear Security and Bechtel slated to stay on at Y-12 through at least 2024 thanks to contract extensions cut after the collapse last year of a follow-on site management award, Hruby said that the NNSA planned to solicit bids for a follow-on Y-12 prime in 2024 or so.

CNS manages both Y-12 and Pantex and will at least through 2024. NNSA is splitting up the contract, however, and still planned to solicit bids for a standalone Pantex contract in 2023, Hruby said Tuesday. 

NNSA announced this staggered solicitation schedule for the two production sites in October.