Monthly Archives: December 2012

A post-Cold War, Recovery Act story: the continuing demolition of K-33

K-33 Sept  2012.jpg
Department of Energy photo
The big, mostly grassy area in this September 2012 aerial photograph is where the behemoth, 2.8-million-square-foot K-33 uranium-enrichment building was once located. Most of the demolition was completed last year but some work remains.
k33.jpgAlmost two years ago the demolition work at the K-33 uranium-enrichment facility was well under way. Indeed, by the middle of 2011, the big old building (more than 2.8 million square feet) was on the ground. At least it was mostly on the ground. As we start a new year, there is still work to be done under the Recovery Act-funded project, and LATA-Sharp — the Department of Energy’s contractor — is going into overtime to complete the work.
The initial contract awarded to LATA-Sharp was for $51 million, but that was later expanded and the time element is apparently being extended again to take down the K-33 connection to the nearby K-31 building and some of the remaining infrastructure.
“The original contract didn’t include the removal of the K-33 slab and soils, which was included in August 2010 and changed the contract value to $71 million as well as extended it,” DOE spokesman Mike Koentop said in email response to questions. “The contract currently ends December 19, 2012 but will be extended as a result of this latest change. The work will be completed by the end of this fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2013).”

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Year’s Top 10 posts at Atomic City Underground

Well, 2012 is almost over, and it was surely an interesting year at the Atomic City Underground. As I’ve done in the past, here is the Top 10 list of the most popular posts of the year. It’s an odd mix, showing people’s interest in history, nuclear trivia and quirky photos. They also like shiny objects, which could be the only explanation for No. 6 (and its eye-catching headline) appearing on the list.
The biggest story of the year was the July 28 break-in at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and while none of those reports landed in the Top 10 (No. 10 was related) there were a bunch of posts in the Top 50 and August was easily the biggest traffic month of the year at AC Underground. More on that later.
Here’s the Top 10:
1. If you still have nightmares of the Cold War nuclear threat, these photos won’t help.
2. This is a ‘log’ of bomb-grade uranium.
3. Did that airplane swallow a nuclear reactor?
4. How did they get 860 tons of graphite for the world’s first continuously operated nuclear reactor? February 1943 memo sheds light.
5. Annual cost of charging your iPad?
6. Scary nuclear stuff.
7. Looks like the Grand Canyon at 450 mph.
8. This is not how to report a fire at a nuclear weapons plant.
9. Michael Strayer’s death confirmed; authorities won’t discuss circumstances.
10. IG report says advance distribution of security test at Y-12 was ‘inexplicable and inexcusable’; finds contractor’s denials of cheating unconvincing.

Update on plutonium project at ORNL

neptunium.jpgA pilot project to demonstrate the a capability to produce plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is still in its early stages, but there is some progress to report in the development efforts.
The ORNL project is part of U.S. plans to develop a domestic source of plutonium-238 for use in future space exploration. Plutonium is used in so-called RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators) to provide power for deep space missions.
The radioactive material is produced by inserting targets of neptunium-237 into the core of ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor.
Tim Powers, director of the lab’s Non-Reactor Nuclear Facilities Division, indicated some of the early work under way is to develop the best target for the project. Only a very small amount of plutonium has been produced at this point, he said.

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World’s No. 1 supercomputer: Nothing disappointing about Titan so far

Titan_2012-P031562.jpgIn a pre-holiday intervew, Jeff Nichols, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s scientific computing chief, said he was really pleased with the performance of the Titan supercomputer as it moves through the acceptance testing.
Even though the Cray XK7 system performed well enough in its bechmark tests to gain the No. 1 spot on the list of the world’s fastest supercomputers (with a peak of about 27 million billion calculations per second), Titan is still in the process of proving it’s everything it’s supposed to be in terms of producing top science for ORNL and the Department of Energy.
Nichols said the lab is still learning a lot about the system while building the capabilities in anticipation of turning it over to some of the world’s top researchers to tackle the grand scientific challenges of today.

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K-25 milestone: 15,000 waste loads

K-25 waste loading 2.JPGURS-CH2M Oak Ridge (UCOR), the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s cleanup manager in Oak Ridge, said the 15,000th load of contaminated debris has been hauled away from the demolition site at the K-25 uranium-enrichment plant.
That waste represents about 2 million square feet of the old gaseous diffusion plant, which produced much of the highly enriched uranium for the nation’s Cold War nuclear arsenal. The demolition debris has been trucked a few miles away to DOE’s CERCLA landfill, officially known as the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility. It is designed to handle radioactive, hazardous and classified wastes from the Oak Ridge cleanup projects.
The demolition of K-25 began in 2008 under the direction of Bechtel Jacobs Co., UCOR’s predecessor as the federal cleanup manager in Oak Ridge.

Amid the fiscal uncertainty, ORNL Director Thom Mason says: ‘We’ve done the things we can do that are within our control’

masonpic.jpgThe “fiscal cliff” is hanging ominously over plans for 2013, but Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason — in a pre-holiday interview — said the lab has been preparing for tough times for a good while and has done everything it can reasonably do to deal with the situation before knowing the budget details.
“We’ve done the things we can do that are within our control,” Mason said.
Over the past couple of years, ORNL’s management has put in place a number of changes, reducing the workforce, cutting costs (including personnel benefits in some cases) and restructured some of the lab organizations to gain efficiencies.

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WSI personnel updates

As has been previously reported, there were a number of personnel changes at WSI-Oak Ridge in the wake of the July 28 security breach at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Key managers were removed from their positions even before WSI lost its security contract at Y-12.
Former WSI-OR General Manager Lee Brooks and former Y-12 Protective Force Manager Gary Brandon, who previously were listed as awaiting reassignment by parent company G4S, have retired, spokeswoman Courtney Henry said.

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Y-12 gives to Angel Tree

Employees at the Y-12 National Security Complex contributed in a big-time way to the Angel Tree program, providing donations to meet the gift wishes of nearly 500 children in Anderson, Roane, Loudon, Scott and Monroe Counties.

Santa arrives in Oak Ridge (1948)

Santa in OR2.jpg
ORNL archives via Tim Gawne
There were plenty of reasons to be happy in post-war Oak Ridge, including the arrival of Santa Claus in December 1948. Here is the scene at the Christmas Party organized by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the children of lab employees at the Center Theater.