Monthly Archives: December 2015

Post-blizzard Pantex

Federal spokesman Steven Wyatt said the Pantex nuclear weapons plant reopened on Tuesday after being closed a day earlier due to blizzard conditions in the Texas Panhandle. There were no immediate reports of weather impacts at the national security plant, where nuclear warhead are put together and dismantled.

75,000 gallons of rad-hot sludge and counting

In early 2014, evidence of radioactive pollution was discovered in the city of Oak Ridge’s sewage treatment facility on the west side of town.

sludgeThe unwelcome surprise was blamed on technetium-99 that had migrated from a demolition project at the federal government’s K-25 uranium-enrichment plant on the other side of the Clinch River.

The radioactive contaminants, which can be mobile in the environment, had infiltrated pipelines leading to the sewer system.

Although the radioactivity reportedly didn’t not pose a health threat to workers at the plant or drinking water supplies in the area, it prompted a number of cleanup actions — including efforts to remove the technetium in the sewage treatment systems. Continue reading

A scary look at niobium

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This was originally a black-and-white image of a single crystal sphere of niobium as viewed by an electron microscope at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1980s. The color was added to make it really, really interesting and just a little bit scary.  (Department of Energy archives)

Safety allegations at Y-12 not confirmed; IG report cites positives at Oak Ridge plant

y12signThe Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General investigated allegations that the contractor at Y-12 (Consolidated Nuclear Security) had “encouraged employees to ignore safety regulations” and made employees reluctant to report injuries for fear of reprisal.

The IG’s inspection, however, did not find evidence to support those allegations. In fact, the findings were generally positive.

Here’s an excerpt from the report’s summary: Continue reading

Oak Ridge building’s classified contents add to difficulty of demolition project

1037 circledAerial view of the east side of the East Tennessee Technology Park shows the K-1037 building (circled), which is scheduled for demolition. The building was the design and manufacturing center for the “barrier” used in gaseous diffusion plants to enrich uranium. Below, Mark Whitney, DOE’s deputy assistant secretary for environmental management, dresses out in protective gear before entering the K-1037 building during a visit to Oak Ridge earlier this month. (UCOR photos)

Whitney visit 2One of the most challenging projects in the Department of Energy’s nuclear cleanup program is hardly nuclear at all.

The biggest concern in cleaning up and tearing down K-1037 is not radioactive waste but rather the classified contents of the big building once used to produce “barrier” — a secret component of the gaseous diffusion technology used to separate isotopes of uranium for use in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors.

“The barrier is sintered nickel powder,” Mike Koentop, executive officer in DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, said in response to questions. “Any elaboration beyond that is classified.” Continue reading

Parking lot futures at Y-12

653338Asphalt excavated from parking lots at Y-12 was recycled used to repair potholes and pave some of the gravel roads at the nuclear defense site. (CNS photo)

To prepare for the upcoming construction of the Uranium Processing Facility, one of the biggest projects in Oak Ridge history, contractors earlier this year dug up two large parking lots and excavated part of a road and other asphalt areas on the west side of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

The site-prep activities for UPF created a mountain of asphalt slabs — 63 million pounds all told — but it didn’t go to waste. Continue reading

President George W. Bush at ORNL (2004)

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President George W. Bush meets with some Oak Ridge National Laboratory employees following a speech at the lab on terrorism, July 12, 2004. Earlier that day, Bush had gotten his first look at some Libyan centrifuge equipment that was brought to Oak Ridge as part of one of his administration’s top diplomatic accomplishments. (Department of Energy archives/Lynn Freeny photo)

ORNL achieves milestone in producing plutonium-238 for space missions

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An Oak Ridge National Laboratory employee uses a remote-manipulator to move a vial of plutonium-238 oxide inside a shielded hot cell at ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. (ORNL photo/Jason Richards)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced Tuesday it had achieved production of 50 grams of plutonium-238. That’s roughly the mass of a golf ball, according to the Department of Energy, but it’s considered an important milestone in re-establishing a U.S. stockpile of Pu-238 for use as a power source on deep-space missions.

ORNL has been developing the capability over the past couple of years with funding that NASA provided via the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The lab uses the High Flux Isotope Reactor for production of the plutonium isotope and then processes and purifies the radioactive material in a series of shielded hot cells. Continue reading

UCOR ramps up work on Y-12 mercury-treatment design; Oak Ridge and Savannah River sharing resources on mercury issues

mercurysignUCOR (URS-CH2M Oak Ridge) is the Department of Energy’s cleanup manager in Oak Ridge, and that role has brought the contractor head to head with some challenging tasks — such as fixing the leak in the reactor pool at the ORNL’s Oak Ridge Research Reactor and tearing down lots of big buildings.

UCOR also has been given the lead in designing a new mercury treatment facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and that work is starting to really move forward, with the preliminary design to be completed in the spring of 2016, according to UCOR’s recent response to questions. Continue reading