NNSA confirms uranium incident at Y-12; top official coming to Oak Ridge to address situation

Y12_09_MP (2)The National Nuclear Security Administration this evening confirmed there was a recent incident involving a “small amount” of uranium oxide at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and it apparently was serious enough that Acting Administrator Bruce Held is coming to Y-12 on Tuesday to meet with plant officials and hold an all-hands meeting with employees.

The incident was first reported by Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor, a Washington-based subscription newsletter.

“NNSA is aware of an incident involving a small amount of uranium oxide (U308) at the Y-12 National Security Complex  earlier this month,” federal spokesman Steven Wyatt said via email. “There was never a threat to public health or safety.”

He added: “Because safety and security are our highest priorities, the NNSA and other appropriate authorities continue to investigate.”

Wyatt said Held will meet with plant management and speak with employees about the issue.

“At this time, we will have no further comment,” he said.

Wyatt declined to comment on whether the uranium involved in the incident was highly enriched. Even the smallest amounts of bomb-grade uranium are monitored closely at the Oak Ridge plant, with recycling processes used to retain particles left on clothing or captured on process filters.

Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor reported that a scientist at Y-12 inadvertently left a sample of the material in his work clothing, which was discovered en route to being laundered.

This will be the third time that Held has come to Oak Ridge to meet with Y-12 employees over the past year. His initial visit was in late-July 2013, close to the one-year anniversary of the 2012 security breach involving peace activists. He also came to Y-12 in December after speaking to a field hearing of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board in Knoxville.

Y-12’s is the designated Uranium Center of Excellence in the U.S., and houses the nation’s primary stockpile of weapons-grade uranium.

Photo of Bruce Held by Michael Patrick/KNS

A new feature on Atomic City Underground allows readers to sign up for email updates and receive a notice each time new information is posted on the news blog. Just put your email address in the box on the lower right of the blog’s front page and follow instructions. Thanks to all loyal readers.

This entry was posted in Y-12 on by .

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.