Move to “de-inventory” the uranium hub at Y-12


The 9212 uranium-processing complex at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. (Y-12 photo)

One of the signs that Y-12 is carrying out the Red Team’s recommendations, as noted in a recent post, is the move to de-inventory 9212 — the main uranium-processing center — and other nearby production facilities in so-called Area 5. That means reducing the amount of highly enriched uranium that’s contained there, presumably minimizing the hazards if there were to be an accident.

Asked to respond, National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Steven Wyatt said via email, “The de-inventory of Area 5 at Y-12 was one of the key recommendations of the Red Team report. This effort will have the goal of reducing the amount of enriched uranium to as low as possible for what is required for production purposes to reduce risks.”

Wyatt declined to be specific in defining Area 5. “The term ‘Area 5’ refers to a part of the Y-12 Protected Area that includes various production facilities. The term itself is not widely used.”

He also declined to be respond directly when asked if Y-12 plans to locate alternative uranium processing operations — “electro-refining” and the “calciner” — to Building 9215. He said the decisions “regarding the deployment” have not been completed at this time.

Interestingly, according to information in Y-12’s 10-Year Site Plan (FY2014-2023), some effort to de-inventory Area 5 has been under way for a while. It the report, it was cited as an accomplishment: “Deinventory continued of Area 5; material was moved from Buildings 9212, 9215, and 9204 into HEUMF (Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facilities).”

The site plan also noted that other work missions were being consolidated into fewer locations at Y-12.In addition to facility replacement, Y-12 is actively consolidating functions into fewer existing facilities and reducing the operating footprint. A number of ‘enduring facilities’ must remain operational throughout the long-term horizon. A facility’s categorization as enduring is a factor in the prioritization of repairs and maintenance. Facility assessments, facility risk reduction initiatives, DM analyses, and funding prioritization ensure these facilities will continue to operate. While buildings like 9212 are not considered enduring, the critical nature of their function demands appropriate risk reduction.”

The report later noted some other areas of consolidation:

“Since HEUMF became operational in FY 2010 all canned subassemblies from long-term storage areas, with the exception of a small working inventory, have been relocated into HEUMF. Now the focus is on the movement of EU materials from interim and in-process storage into HEUMF. The de-inventory of EU materials from interim and in-proccess storage is managed by the Area 5 Deinventory Program. The Area 5 Deinventory Program’s priority is the de-inventory of the interim and in-process storage areas during this timeframe to facilitate the closure of Building 9212 and the transition to UPF. In many cases, the materials in the interim and in-process storage areas will require some type of processing to meet long-term storage requirements. Canned subassemblies awaiting dismantlement will continue to be stored at their current locations.”

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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.