Uranium technologies in development at Y-12 using ‘full-scale equipment’


Overview of 9212 uranium-processing complex at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. (B&W Y-12 photo)

It appears that one of the strategies for urgently getting out the aged 9212 uranium-processing complex at Y-12 is to move some of the work elsewhere, such as deploying the ER (electro-refining) and DER (direct electrolytic reduction) technologies in the nearby Building 9215.

Last year, National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Steven Wyatt said the NNSA views ER and DER as “promising technologies” for replacing the majority of the wet chemistry and oxide conversion processes at Y-12, but added: “These capabilities have not been not been fully defined.  No decisions have been made to replace the existing technologies.”

Asked for updated information, Wyatt responded Friday via email: “Work related to DER and ER technologies continues in Y-12 Development facilities using full-scale equipment.”

He added: “Projects related to deploying ER and DER will be developed in CY 2014.”

Wyatt did not respond to a request for information on the cost of the projects.

The work on alternative technologies has been described as a primary path for getting out of 9212, where the wet chemistry and oxide conversion work with bomb-grade uranium is centered. According to info last year in a staff report of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the estimate for initial operation of the ER system is sometime in calendar year 2019, with the DER system up and running about two years after that.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.