Another issue at Fogbank production facility

purification-001Officials at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant confirmed that an “unexpected reaction” took place last month during startup of operations at Building 9225-3 (the Purification Facility). The facility is known to be the location for production of Fogbank, a classified material used in some thermonuclear weapons — such as the W76 (Trident) warhead.

“Because of unique system alignments during start up following maintenance, two operations being conducted at the same time used two procedures that caused an unexpected reaction from the wet chemistry equipment and vapor recovery system,” Ellen Boatner, a spokeswoman for Y-12 contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security, said in an email response to questions.

The issue first came to light in a recently released report Aug. 14 by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

“Actions were promptly taken to ensure the facility was in a safe configuration,” Boatner said. She emphasized that safety is “paramount” at the Oak Ridge plant and a “daily absolute” in the work done there. Boatner said there was never a safety risk for employees or the public.

According to the DNFSB memo from staff at the site to safety board headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Y-12 contractor held a “fact-finding meeting” following the event — which took place at the same building where there was a spill of acetonitrile in late 2014 that forced the evacuation of workers.

Boatner said there was no relationship between the December 2014 spill and the August 2015 event.

However, she said that the prompt response to the recent event could be attributed, in part, to the training that resulted from the analysis and “lessons learned” after the 2014 spill and evacuation by workers.

“On Aug. 4, 2015, facility operators stopped a liquid transfer when they noted unexpected changes in tank levels and process system pressures,” the safety board stated.

The procedures taking place at the same were reportedly incompatible.

The report indicated that Y-12, following the most recent incident, has put in place a standing order that restricts the simultaneous operation of the wet chemistry procedures at the Purification Facility without having the permission of the Production Manager.

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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.