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UT, Texas A&M Systems hope to manage Y-12 National Security Complex and the Pantex Plant

Monica Kast Knoxville News Sentinel

The University of Tennessee System and the Texas A&M University System have announced plans to compete as a team for a bid that would allow them to manage and operate both the Y-12 National Security Complex and Pantex Plant.

If the bid is accepted, the schools would join a team that would manage and operate both Department of Energy facilities, which manufacture, store and monitor the nation’s nuclear weapons. 

Both universities currently partner with the plants in their state and provide “extensive workforces for the plants,” UT said in a news release. 

Y-12 is one of the largest employers in the Knoxville area, with  approximately 6,500 employees. It had a reported $1.6 billion organization-wide revenue in 2018, according to the Book of Lists. Pantex has more than 3,300 employees, according to its website. 

The University of Tennessee is Knoxville’s third-largest employer with more than 9,300 employees. 

Officials with the Texas A&M University System, which includes West Texas A&M University in Canyon, recently announced its intention to join a team with the University of Tennessee System to compete for the management and operations contract of the Pantex Plant as well as the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.

“The drive to serve our nation and provide workforce training for the nation’s nuclear security enterprise are woven into our DNA at the Texas A&M System,” said John Sharp, chancellor. “We are eager to work with the University of Tennessee System to serve these two important federal facilities.”

Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp.

Workforce development for the plants

A key part of the partnership from the universities is workforce development, UT administrators said. Students who attend the universities could have the opportunity to complete internships or fellowships at the faculties, and the faculty could also play a role. 

“West Texas A&M University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have been significant workforce development resources for Pantex and Y-12, respectively, and their roles could potentially expand under this alliance,” UT said in the news release. 

“Partnering with Texas A&M to explore ways in which our university systems can further serve the U.S. Department of Energy at Y-12 and Pantex is a no-brainer,” said UT System President Randy Boyd. “Both institutions bring experience in (managing and operating) contracting, broad workforce and talent development programs, and a commitment to serve our students, states and the nation.”

Randy Boyd, photographed in his campus office Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at the University of Tennessee, shortly before officially being named president.

The opportunity to bid on the managing and operating contract comes after the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced in June it would not extend the contract of Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS) for the management and operations of both facilities. CNS has held the contract since 2014, according to the NNSA website, and the contract will expire on Sept. 30, 2021.

Both universities currently work with the plants in their state. Texas A&M provides engineering support to Pantex, located near Amarillo, and partners with Y-12 to provide training. The University of Tennessee has training and collaborative program experience with Y-12, located outside Knoxville in Oak Ridge, and the Department of Energy.

An entrance to the University of Tennessee's Knoxville campus.

Managing national laboratories

Both schools have experience managing national laboratories, as well. The Texas A&M System is part of Triad National Security, which has managed the Los Alamos National Laboratory since 2018. The UT System has managed the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, through UT-Battelle, since 2000.

Managing and operating Y-12 would mean overseeing current and future projects at the facilities. The request for proposals also includes a note that the new contractor would be responsible for improving the organizational culture.

Pantex and Y-12 are both part of nuclear production capabilities in the Nuclear Security Enterprise in the Department of Energy.

Pantex is responsible for the safety, security and effectiveness of the United States’ nuclear weapons. That includes nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly, developing and testing highly explosive components and interim storage and surveillance of plutonium pits. 

Y-12, which was built as part of the Manhattan Project, is the nation’s only source of enriched uranium nuclear weapons components and provides enriched uranium to the Navy. 

Correction: The number of employees at Y-12 National Security Complex has been corrected.