Monthly Archives: January 2015

SNS up and running at conservative power level; investigation continues on target failures

The Spallation Neutron Source, one of ORNL’s signature research facilities, resumed operations a week ago following an abbreviated winter maintenance outage. According to Kevin Jones, who heads the lab’s Research Accelerator Division, the SNS is operating well at a reduced power level of 850 kW, which he acknowledged was a “target conservation mode.”

SNS Building MarkerA couple of the target vessels failed prematurely last fall, which created troubling interruptions in the schedule of research experiments. The target vessel holds and circulates 20 tons of mercury, which produces neutrons when struck many times a second by a powerful proton beam. The SNS is running at below-max power to help protect the target vessel currently installed until more backups arrive at the Oak Ridge complex.

The SNS operations team is busy investigating what caused Target 10 and Target 11 to fail unexpectedly. Jones said investigators have identified the location of the failure on both target vessels, but the actual cause is a still a matter of review and conjecture. Continue reading

Alpha-5’s decay carries a warning


None of us is probably too excited about the aging process, especially as we get “up there” in years and start to avoid mirrors or look for ways to turn back time.

That’s natural.

But we can all hope that we don’t suffer the fate of Alpha-5, one of the original buildings at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, which appears to be falling apart in its 70s and getting uglier by the day. Continue reading

DOE renews ORNL-led virtual reactor project; five-year funding set at $121.5M

caslpicOver the past five years, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and its partners have developed and tested advanced computing techniques for simulating the internal operations of a nuclear reactor, in essence creating a virtual reactor.

The work to date has reportedly been a success, and the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed plans to renew funding — $121.5 million spread over the next five years — and expand the work of the ORNL-based Consortium for the Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, known as CASL.The funding extension is subject to Congressional approval annually. Continue reading

Sue Cange named DOE’s cleanup chief in Oak Ridge

cange2After holding the executive position in an acting role multiple times over the past few years, Sue Cange has been named the Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup manager in Oak Ridge.

In a statement, Mark Whitney, DOE’s acting assistant secretary for environmental management, said, “Sue has a long and proven record of leadership. I’ve seen firsthand Sue’s ability to develop and accomplish ambitious cleanup strategies and foster results-driven relationships with a variety of stakeholders on complex issues.” Continue reading

Moniz reportedly pleased with UPF progress

UPF Site Rendering

Redesign of the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 as illustrated in this conceptual image. (Consolidated Nuclear Security)

In a message to federal employees at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office, NPO Manager Steve Erhart passed along positive feedback on work taking place on the Uranium Processing Facility. Continue reading

ORNL’s Thom Mason: ‘The volume of work we do that is classified is actually quite small’

In an interview last month at his corner office in Building 4500-North, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said the overall funding for the lab’s Global Security programs is down — from about $400 million a year to about $300 million — but he didn’t seem sad about it. He didn’t seem sad at all. He said the change is partly due to world events and, in some ways, ORNL is now better aligned to leverage its research strengths.

IMG_2143Mason said the automatic budget cuts associated with the 2013 budget sequestration had a greater impact on some of the Department of Defense-funded work than other programs at Oak Ridge. He also noted there were “tremendous budget pressures” on the National Nuclear Security Administration programs because of modernization projects in the nuclear weapons complex.

“So, as a result, our dollar volume in national security has been going down,” Mason said. “The other factor there, though, is about half our work has been in non-proliferation — particularly with overseas programs, securing nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. And, of course, there’s not a lot happening with the Russians these days.” Continue reading

Catching up with Dan Poneman

munger_1 (2)Dan Poneman holds claim as the longest-running deputy secretary of energy (May 2009-October 2014), surely an accomplishment in and of itself. He carried out the administration’s priorities in the energy and national security programs with what seemed to be an admirable level of dedication, scholarship, endurance and, yes, even passion before departing a few months ago.

Poneman, the deputy secretary, doesn’t sound so different in his afterlife. I touched base with him recently, just to see what was up at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where he landed as a senior fellow. The Belfer Center was honored again recently as a top university think-tank. Continue reading

NPO’s Steve Erhart addresses ‘rumors’

I typically don’t publish rumors unless I’ve been able to confirm all or some of the information or unless the rumors have generated news events all by themselves, which does happen on occasion. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, after hearing various rumors of forthcoming organizational changes at the NNSA Production Office — including the possible departure of NPO Manager Steve Erhart — I asked for info regarding the situation.

erhartsafety“We do not comment on rumors regarding changes in key management positions,” NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt responded via email. “Mr. Erhart is continuing to serve in his capacity as the NPO Manager.”

Well, I didn’t publish that at the time, but do so now because Steve Erhart has addressed the rumors in a message last week to federal employees. His comments are kind of interesting, even if he didn’t really confirm anything. He acknowledges being unsettled and distracted by some of the rumors. Here’s what he said: Continue reading

IG identifies more than 200 high-risk facilities that are dirty and degraded; ‘worst of worst’ is at Y-12

0129_KCLO_Alpha5_2 (2)

This 2013 photo shows degraded conditions in Y-12’s Alpha-5 building, where contaminated equipment sits in standing water associated with roof leaks. (DOE photo)

The Department of Energy’s Inspector General has identified more than 200 high-risk buildings around the nuclear complex that are dirty and degraded and have no definitive schedule for cleanup, and the “worst of the worst” is the Alpha-5 facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.

The audit report released today by Inspector General Gregory Friedman found serious weaknesses in DOE’s efforts to deal with these old and deteriorated facilities — some of which have been out of operation for decades — that loaded with radioactive and hazardous materials. The schedule for turning these facilities over to DOE’s Environmental Management program for cleanup is getting pushed more and more into the future, the report said, indicating that many of these facilities won’t be designated for cleanup until 2025 or possibly even a decade later.

Building 9201-5, also known as Alpha-5, is a former uranium-enrichment facility that dates back to the World War II Manhattan Project. The IG report said the National Nuclear Security Administration, the semi-independent part of DOE that oversees the nuclear weapons complex, had characterized Alpha-5 as “the worst of the worst” even though about $24 million has already been spent to reduce risks at the big building. The reports notes that in addition to hazardous and radioactive contamination being spread by water from leaking roofs, there is a risk of explosion from materials housed there.

Continue reading