Monthly Archives: August 2011

Is DOE Oak Ridge about to take a fall?

There have been concerns raised for months about the impact of restructuring the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Operations, and the union representing some of the white-collar workers at the Oak Ridge office says those concerns are justified.
Max Smith, DOE Shop Chair for the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 2001, said there are reasons to believe that DOE’s Oak Ridge office will take the lion’s share of share of funding reductions being planned for Fiscal Year 2012 (which begins Oct. 1). In fact, Smith said the Oak Ridge federal office could receive almost half of the total reductions being planned among DOE’s Office of Science field offices.

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Problems with mercury project at Y-12

It’s probably too early to declare the Recovery Act-funded West End Mercury Area (WEMA) project a failure or success, but there clearly have been some problems. Unlike several of the stimulus projects at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, which have been completed ahead of schedule and under budget, the WEMA project is still in the works.
The project is supposed to reduce the mercury discharges from Y-12, but it’s not clear that’s taken place so far. In fact, there have been some increases in mercury levels early on, but there’s still hope that the long term results will be positive.

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Pushing for progress on Molten Salt

Earlier this summer, the Dept. of Energy’s Site Specific Advisory Board passed a recommendation that DOE “promptly” begin an effort to find a path or paths for getting rid of the tons of radioactive fuel salts stored in the basement of the Molten Salt Reactor (an experimental reactor last operated in the 1960s) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The board was reacting in part, to an Engineering Evaluation, that recommended in part that the storage tanks be left “as is” for 50 years. That recommendation, the advisory board said, “appears to ignore the possibility that there may be no path for disposal after 50 years other than permanent residence on the Oak Ridge reservation.”

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A K-25 breakthrough (literally)

DOE photo/Lynn Freeny
Workers on the K-25 demolition project achieved a significant progress point this week when they completed cutting through the East Wing of the old uranium-enrichment building. By bringing down the sections all the way across the wing, they were able to clearly separate the future work areas. The southern portion of the wing (to the left in the photo) will require additional preparation before demolition because of the particularly hazardous presence of radioactive technetium-99 in five of the six sections there. But the demolition work on the northern part of the East Wing will continue apace.

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DOE preservation plans in Oak Ridge

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office, which once upon a time committed to preserving the North Tower of K-25 until realizing just how deteriorated it was after years of sitting idle, is reportedly moving ahead with some type of preservation plan — not just for K-25 but for DOE Oak Ridge-wide.
Plans have been in some form of development for the past couple of years, but no triggers have been pulled so far. DOE spokesman Mike Koento said the agency plans to finalize a “draft mitigation plan” and distribute it to historic preservation groups and other consulting parties by the middle of September.

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No layoffs at Y-12

Given the situation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where 29 positions were eliminated last week, I asked the folks at the Y-12 National Security Complex if any layoffs were being planned there.
Plant spokesman David Keim responded today, “We’re not anticipating any reductions in force at Y-12 at this time.”

26 Cray XE6 cabinets arrive at ORNL; will be part of NOAA system for climate research

ORNL photo/Ron Walli
Jay Young of Cray works on installation of a Cray XE6 cabinet, part of the second phase of a supercomputing system used for climate research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Twenty-six of the cabinets arrived this week at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where the NOAA machine is housed.
Twenty-six Cray XE6 cabinets arrived this week at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where they’ll be installed and operated as part of NOAA’s supercomputing system used for climate research.
According to ORNL, the Cray XE6 cabinets will be configured with the Gemini
interconnect and the AMD 16-core Interlagos processors. The processors haven’t arrived yet and won’t be installed for a few weeks, the lab said.
“This single partition will provide an additional peak computing capability of more than 720 teraflops with an electrical cost per floating point operation that is just 40 percent of the equivalent FLOP on a Cray XT5,” Jim Rogers of ORNL’s National Center for Computational Sciences said in a statement.

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Mixed results on Los Alamos audit

The Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General today released an audit of Recovery Act EM work at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The audit included positive findings, in that a couple of the proejcts were completed ahead of schedule and under budget, and auditors generally found that Los Alamos complied with the rules of the Recovery Act. However, one of the projects, known as the MDA-B (or Material Disposal Area B) project, had a bunch of issues. Here’s a link to the IG report on Los Alamos’ Environmental Management work with stimulus money.

A different kind of diploma

ORNL archives
Research librarian and history enthusiast Tim Gawne came across this funny little artifact in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory archives. It’s certainly a different kind of diploma for the “onery” degree of Atom Buster. It gives a bit of the flavor of working on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge. (Click on image to make it larger.)

Securing substations against copper thieves

I did a couple of posts about copper thefts at Department of Energy sites, which were highlighted in an Inspector General report, including some in Oak Ridge. One of the examples involved 1,400 pounds of copper stolen from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has information on its web site about a project designed to bring security to vulnerable electrical substations.

DOE responds to state of Tennessee proposal: Thanks, but no thanks

While negotiations have been going on for a new Tennessee Oversight Agreement between the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the Tenn. Dept. of Environment and Conservation, the Local Oversight Committee has been left out in the cold, so to speak. That’s partly due to tight federal budgets and maybe other things, too.
Anyway, the TDEC suggested a possible solution to the financial crunch. The state, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fined the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office earlier this summer for failing to meet milestones under the Federal Facility Agreement for some groundwater work at the East Tennessee Technology Park (site of the former K-25 uranium-enrichment operations). The fines would have been about $150,000, split between EPA and TDEC.

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Thom Mason talks about ITER

So, with excruciatingly tight federal budgets expected in the future, what’s going on with the U.S. involvement in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor? The American work on the big multi-national (Japan, Russia, Europe, China, India and South Korea are the other partners) fusion project is based in Oak Ridge.
I talked a bit with Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason last week and asked him about ITER. Mason noted there’s a $105 million funding request from the Obama administration before Congress, and it received full funding in the House budget bill. “We’ll have to see what the Senate does,” he said.

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