In a telephone interview Thursday evening, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander talked about his expectations for the multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility, his new role as chairman of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, and his thoughts on newly confirmed Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter.
I referenced his statement on Carter and asked Tennessee’s senior senator for his views on nuclear deterrence during this period.
“I actually met with him yesterday for about 45 minutes in my office,” Alexander said. “We talked specifically about that. I asked him for his best advice on our nuclear weapons modernization program. We’ve embarked on a significant and expensive effort to make sure that our weapons work if we need to use them. And I want to make sure that (a) they work and (b) that we’re not wasting any money because we don’t have any money to waste.
“’While he was deputy secretary of defense, he was in charge of a review of our nuclear weapons modernization to try to help the Energy Department make sure it was managing it properly. So, as Secretary of Defense, he’ll be very helpful to me because he’s got experience with dealing with not only weapons modernization but with the uranium facility (UPF) as well. His advice will be very helpful as we try to allocate the billions of dollars that we’re asked to spend carefully and wisely.”
Alexander has been supportive of the Uranium Processing Facility, which is to be constructed at Y-12 in his home state, but he’s also been strongly critical at times about the project’s cost growth. He said it was he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who set a cap of $6.5 billion for the project that’s being revised to keep costs down and allow the closure of older production facilities (notably the World War II-era 9212 complex) as soon as possible.