IG report: Y-12 didn’t respond properly to HEU incident

y12overviewAn Inspector general’s report released today says Y-12 didn’t properly handle a January 2014 incident in which small vials of bomb-grade uranium almost left the plant on a laundry truck.

The report says officials at the Oak Ridge plant took corrective actions, but they still didn’t address all of the issues — such as the delayed notification of the incident to the plant shift superintendent.

The IG did an inspection at Y-12 based on a series of allegations regarding the Oak Ridge plant’s response to the incident in which two vials — reportedly containing about 20 grams of highly enriched uranium — were left in the pocket of a worker’s coveralls and weren’t discovered until the laundry truck was leaving the high-security Protected Area. If they hadn’t been detected at that point, the small quantities of special nuclear material would likely have ended up at an off-site laundry facility.

The IG substantiated a number of the allegations, including one related to worker safety and health.

“Our inspection revealed that a corrective action was not completed for a safety violation that was issue to the personnel of the Y-12 production facility responsible for the HEU samples,” the report stated.

The safety violation was issued because the personnel did not adhere to a plant procedure for dealing with an “abnormal condition involving fissile material.” That procedure required workers who discovered the uranium samples to establish at least a 15-foot boundary around the samples, “make no attempt to correct the situation and notify Nuclear Criticality Safety about the discovery.

The government’s contractor at Y-12 at the time of the incident was B&W Y-12 — a partnership of Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel National.

Bruce Held, acting administrator of the NNSA, visited Y-12 following the incident and praised the security guards to discovering the HEU before it left the plant. Held also released some details of the incident, including the amount of enriched uranium involved.

Ellen Boatner, a spokeswoman at Y-12, said all of the corrective actions associated with the January 2014 incident have been completed.

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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.