The Oxide Conversion Facility in the 9212 complex at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has been authorized for operation, apparently for the first time in about a year, but it’s still not clear what’s driving the restart and a Y-12 spokesman had little to say in response to questions on the subject.
Oxide Conversion is an essential part of processes used to recycle bomb-grade uranium and get it ready for return to use in nuclear warheads or put on the shelf for other projects. The process converts uranium from an oxide form to uranium tetrafluoride (known as “green salt”), which then goes through a reduction process to form a purified uranium metal.
Operations have been a guessing game for years. It hasn’t been an easy production.
According to a March report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the Y-12 contractor (B&W Y-12) last operarted OCF on March 20, 2012.
“Operators placed the system in warm standby, which negated the need for B&W to perform most surveillances and preventative maintenance activities . . . Nonetheless, production management had planned to keep current with these activities to ease resumption of operations. However, changes in programmatic priorities and available funding late in fiscal year 2012 compelled B&W to forego this approach, making efforts to restart operations more challenging.”
The board staff said because of the lengthy downtime, the Y-12 contractor took extra time in preparing for restart of the uranium operation. The B&W Vice President for Production (Joel Duling) reportedly assumed responsibility for restart and authrorized that in mid-March.
Asked about the reasons for the down time and the restart authority, Y-12 federal spokesman Steven Wyatt offered little information.
“OCF is currently authorized for operation, which occurs on a periodic basis,” Wyatt said.
No information was available on how the Oxide Conversion restart corresponds with the overall weapons production planning at Y-12, where the remanufacturing of parts for Trident warheads remains a priority