A Y-12 spokesman today confirmed that microwave casting is not yet ready for uranium production activities, and there is no indication on when that will occur, despite long-running efforts to introduce the technology into a production role at the nuclear weapons plant.
“The microwave caster is not ready for deployment into production activities,” Steven Wyatt of the National Nuclear Security Administration said in an email response to questions.
“While the first melting and casting run produced a good product, additional experience with the microwave caster indicates that some repairs, equipment modifications, tests, and process qualification work will be necessary,” Wyatt said. “As these activities progress, operators are getting more experience in using the new equipment, and, as with any new technology, operating parameters and conditions will continue be adjusted to improve efficiency and predictability.”
A report earlier this year by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board indicated there were mixed results with those production efforts. In a Feb. 1 memo, the staff noted, “This week, B&W (the managing contractor) successfully melted uranium metal in the production microwave caster for the third time. Similar to the second run, the pour rate and yield (amount of material transferred from the crucible to the mold) were unsatisfactory.The B&W microwave casting subject matter expert is evaluating the cause of these mis-pours, but does not believe this will be a lingering problem.”
The microwave casting project has been in development for years, with some successes followed by setbacks. In January 2011, then-General Manager Darrel Kohlhorst indicated that microwave casting could enter production by the middle of the year.
B&W Y-12, the government’s managing contract, received an “unsatisfactory” rating in its 2012 performance evaluation for the work on microwave casting and some other small-scale projects at the Oak Ridge plant.