Despite millions of dollars spent on upgrades, the 60-year-old production hub at the Y-12 nuclear weapon plant remains seismically vulnerable and could be severely damaged or disabled by a major earthquake.
Sections of the 9212 complex, where the nation’s bomb-grade uranium is processed, were built during World War II, and a federal spokesman at Y-12 said it’s not possible to bring the old facility up to today’s seismic standards. He said that’s one of the reasons why the government wants to build a new Uranium Processing Facility, which is projected to cost as much as $6.5 billion and won’t be available for at least another decade.
The National Nuclear Security Administration initially declined to answer questions about 9212’s structural integrity and whether it could withstand a major earthquake, but spokesman Steven Wyatt later issued this statement by email:
“Safety analyses show that a major earthquake could result in significant structural damage and process failure.”
The Dept. of Energy today issued a Request for Proposals for carriers to transport transuranic wastes between DOE sites around the U.S. and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. The proposals are due May 17.
According to info released by DOE, the work is to be done through contracts with trucking carriers using custom-designed trailers. This procurement is to replace two existing carriers and DOE said it plans to make two awards this time around.
Following a hearing today of the U.S. Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office released some of the senator’s comments on nuclear power — against the backdrop of the ongoing nuclear emergency in Japan.
Alexander said there are lessons to be learned from what’s happening in Japan, and that those supporting nuclear power would be among the first to ask questions.
“But,” he added, “it’s important that we keep in perspective that the safety record of nuclear power in the United States really couldn’t be better.”
At a meeting in Beijing, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the China National Energy Administration announced an agreement that extends and expands cooperation between the two countries on nuclear security.
NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington and Vice Administrator Qian Zhimin of the China National Energy Administration agreed that experts from the two countries would pusue additional areas to work together and continue R&D on new technologies related to nuclear security. According to info released by the NNSA, the parties also agreed to esablish a new working group on radioactive source security.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has awarded a contract valued at more than $12 million to Harper International for a “full pilot-scale carbon fiber process line,” according to information released by the Lancaster, N.Y.-based company. The work is to be carried out with Recovery Act funding.
“The line is a custom designed conversion process to support ORNL’s Low Cost Carbon Fiber research and technology transfer,” Harper said in the info release.
In late 2009, the Department of Energy announced that ORNL had won a $34.7 million Recovery Act grant to establish the Carbon Fiber Technology Center.
Steven Wyatt, a federal spokesman at Y-12, this morning confirmed that the National Nuclear Security Administration and its contractor (B&W Y-12) are no longer considering private-financing arrangements to build a new Complex Command Center.
“Third party financing is not a viable acquisition strategy at this time for the CCC project,” Wyatt said via email. “We are in the process of reviewing various acquisition strategies, including the use of more traditional line-item funding, for this important project. No decisions have been made at this point.”
U.S. Rep. Edward Markey today announced that he’d introduced nuclear reform legislation as part of the U.S response to the nuclear crisis in Japan. According to the release from his office, Markey’s legislation would “impose a moratorium on all new nuclear reactor licenses or license extensions until new safety requirements are in place that reflect the lessons learned from the Fukushima reactor meltdown.”
Tom D’Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, wasn’t willing earlier this year to confirm that the government had ditched plans to use alternative (private) financing for a new Complex Command Center at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. But that’s apparently the case, based on multiple reports.
Wayne Roquemore, the president of Lawler-Wood, the developer previously chosen to carry out the project through private financing, confirmed the change in plans last month, and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has also reported the change in plans.
NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt today said a change is in the works, but he still would not or could not say what the plan is now for the project that’s expected to cost at least $50 million and perhaps much more.
John Sorensen, who along with his wife, Barbara Vogt, has done some formidable research on emergency preparedness, is planning to study tsunamis. Yes, it’s timely, following the events in Japan.
Sorensen will be joining a team headed by Chris Gregg of East Tennessee State University (who got his PhD at the University of Hawaii) in studying American Samoa’s response to a tsunami in late 2009.
“It’ll be a survey research of how they learned of the tsunami, where they were, what they did, how many warnings did they receive, where did they go, how long did they stay away and when did they return,” Sorensen said earier this month following the tsunami that hit Japan March 11.
The ongoing emergency at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant will probably end up being the second-worst nuclear incident in history, ranking only behind the Chernobyl accident in 1986, but University of Tennessee Professor Lawrence Townsend said there needs to be some context for these events.
“It’s a mess, but in the grander scheme of things, this is not the biggest problem the Japanese have,” Townsend said at a forum held tonight at UT’s student center. The panel of local nuclear experts was sponsored by the Oak Ridge/Knoxville chapter of the American Nuclear Society and the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy. About 100 people attended the event, including former Senator (and Ambassador to Japan) Baker.
Here’s a link to latest update from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nuclear crisis in Japan. An excerpt from the section on radiation monitoring:
“On 28 March, deposition of iodine-131 was detected in 12 prefectures, and deposition of cesium-137 in 9 prefectures. The highest values were observed in the prefecture of Fukushima with 23 000 becquerel per square metre for iodine-131 and 790 becquerel per square metre for caesium-137. In the other prefectures where deposition of iodine-131 was reported, the range was from 1.8 to 280 becquerel per square metre. For caesium-137, the range was from 5.5 to 52 becquerel per square metre. In the Shinjyuku district of Tokyo, the daily deposition of both iodine-131 and cesium-137 was below 50 becquerel per square metre. No significant changes were reported in the 45 prefectures in gamma dose rates compared to yesterday. “
Top officials from the National Nuclear Security Administration will testify Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces. The focus will be the Administration’s requested funding for FY 2012. Among those appearing will be NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino; Admiral Kirkland Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion and deputy administrator for Naval Reactors; and Don Cook, NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs.
There’s an appendix to Y-12’s Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement that evaluates the potential impact of “malevolent, terrorist or intentional destructive acts.” But it’s classified and not available to the public.