Federal safety board raises questions on Electrorefining Project at Y-12

beta2e2The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has raised a number of questions and safety concerns about the Electrorefining Project, which is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s plans to replace the existing uranium recovery processes at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The Department of Energy has approved the project for development, and it is estimated to cost between $58.6 million and $76.7 million.

In an Oct. 29 letter to NNSA Administrator Frank G. Klotz, safety board Chairman Joyce Connery said staff members of the DNFSB had reviewed the conceptual design activities and the safety basis work on the Electrorefining Project and had identified some issues of concern.

“The conceptual design documents for ER have appropriately identified the structures, systems and components (SSCs) necessary to confine and control hazardous material,” Connery wrote to Klotz. “We believe, however, that the National Nuclear Security Administration has not fully analyzed some of these SSCs to determine whether they can perform their credited safety functions.”

Connery noted that it’s important to analyze these issues early in the design phase “to assure the integration of safety” into the Electrorefining Project’s design.

The federal safety board’s staff-raised concerns — such as the projected seismic performance of the building that will house the project and issues with the building’s automatic sprinkler system — were detailed in a document attached to the letter.

The Electrorefining Project is to be located in Y-12’s Buidling 9998, which is sandwiched in the main production area (upper left in the photograph) and considered to be part of the 9215 Complex. The facility is adjacent to the plant’s antiquated uranium processing hub, 9212, which the government wants to vacate as soon as feasible.

The safety board chief indicated that Y-12 did not plan to do some of the safety analyses for structures, systems and components until later, and Connery asked Klotz to provide a schedule to the board within the next two months that addresses when those analyses will take place.

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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.