Engineers completing final inspections of NSA's Utah Data Center

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 6 2015 3:07 p.m. MDT

NSA buildings near Camp Williams, Thursday, June 6, 2013.

 (Ravell Call, Deseret News) NSA buildings near Camp Williams, Thursday, June 6, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

BLUFFDALE — A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team is in the final stages of inspecting the National Security Agency's sprawling Utah Data Center, including investigating recent electrical failures in the system.

The NSA confirmed Monday that the $1.5 billion, 1 million-square-foot facility experienced electrical failure during routine testing by the Army Corps of Engineers as it prepares to begin operation, something the Corps reported could occur with any similar project.

The building will be an operational hub for far-reaching security efforts to collect, process and store huge amounts of digital information from Americans' online activities. It was scheduled to open next month.

The NSA stronghold is expected to consume $40 million worth of electricity annually and could require as much as 1.7 million gallons of water each day to cool its army of supercomputers. About one-third of that water will be recycled to irrigate Bluffdale parks and public spaces.

"Because of the scope of this project, a specialized team of experts from the Corps' headquarters was sent to review and assist with addressing these issues," Army Corps of Engineers DeDe Cordell said in a statement Tuesday.

"The cause of the electrical issues was identified by the team and is currently being corrected by the contractor. The final commissioning of the entire electrical system is still ongoing," she said.

The engineer team assures the system will be fully functional before the project is released, Cordell said.

Included in the team's findings was the discovery of an airflow issue to the center's generators. A contractor is correcting the problem, she said.

Citing project documents and current and former NSA officials, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that 10 meltdowns have occurred in the past 13 months, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and delaying the center's opening.

The arc fault failures include backup generators, and government officials and contractors are divided over the cause of the meltdowns and whether the storage center's electrical system is sufficient for its operations, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

In response to reporting about the electrical issues, Cordell said Tuesday that no issues were discovered relating to the computers controlling the complex electrical system.

"Compatibility of the multiple electrical components throughout the project site requires close coordination and adjustments to ensure all systems work correctly," she said.

As the center prepares to power up, the Army Corps of Engineers has submitted and received approval of most of the required operation and maintenance manuals. Remaining manuals will be submitted before the team completes its work.

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