Y-12 shows its age (good and bad)

y12signThursday’s celebration of the newly created Manhattan Project National Historical Park got off to a little bit of a rocky start at Y-12 when a morning power outage on the Oak Ridge plant’s west end threatened to interrupt public tours of historic sites.

The tours got started a little late, and the first tour group wasn’t able to visit Beta-3 — a key cog in the wartime production of U-235 for the “Little Boy” atomic bomb — because electricity to the big building hadn’t yet returned.

According to Steven Wyatt, a federal spokesman, the insulation in an old transformer failed, causing the outage.

“It was an aging infrastructure thing,” Wyatt said, referring to persistent problems in areas of the plant where original equipment — now 70 years old — is still in place.

Power returned, however, and the rest of the tour schedule went off pretty much as planned.

Even though about 300 people registered for the tours of historical facilities at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, not everybody showed up. In fact, fewer than half of them did. Wyatt said the final tally was 124.

Speaking of infrastructure problems at Y-12, the managing contractor at the national security site is looking for places to relocate the Analytical Chemistry Organization.

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office — which oversees operations at Y-12 — earlier this year asked Bechtel-led Consolidated Nuclear Security to provide a list of alternatives for the future operation of the chemistry labs.

The reason for the look-see, according to a memo by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, was the “age-related deterioration” of Building 9995, where the Y-12 chemists and their laboratories are housed.

“During the last several years, Building 9995 has experienced equipment failures in systems such as air conditioning, electrical distribution, and utility piping,” the Oct. 9 report stated.

CNS reportedly submitted a preliminary analysis in September, “with recommendations for options for a more detailed analysis.”

Those options, according to the safety board report, included relocating Analytical Chemistry operations (with about 70 employees) to an existing facility inside Y-12’s high-security Protected Area or construction of a new facility outside the Protected Area.

Asked for comment, NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt said via email, “Final determinations on relocation of Analytical Chemistry laboratories have not been made yet. NNSA is evaluating all possibilities at this point in order to make a decision that is in the best interest of Y-12’s missions and stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

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