Fixing equipment at 9212 a key part of uranium project

Y-12 is trying to clean house, so to speak, at its main uranium-processing center — the notoriously antiquated 9212 complex, parts of which date back to the World War II Manhattan Project.9212

To prepare for eventual closure of 9212 and to reduce the risks at the old facility, the government’s contractor (Consolidated Nuclear Security) is trying to process scraps of weapons-grade uranium — including nuclear material that’s contained in solutions — for removal and safe storage elsewhere at the site.

The uranium-removal project was emphasized earlier this year in a message from top officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration, including the federal agency’s uranium program chief, Tim Driscoll. The letter challenged the Y-12 contractor to double its production of purified uranium metal to 1,000 kilograms per year. That project will reportedly convert the uranium to a form suitable for transfer to storage facilities elsewhere at the site.

According to a recently released Oct. 16 report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, contractor and federal officials looked at various ways to accelerate the uranium-purification activities at 9212, and they reportedly agreed that “the most prudent first step” would be to make the production equipment more reliable.

CNS created a special “productivity improvement” team and held a kickoff meeting in mid-October.

The team’s primary goal for fiscal year 2016 is to eliminate, if possible, the backlog of maintenance work on equipment that’s used to purify uranium in a metal form.

That goal won’t be easy to achieve because there are already 200 work orders waiting for attention.

Also, the new emphasis on maintenance may impact other priorities at the Oak Ridge plant, which specializes in work on the second stage of nuclear weapons.

Consolidated Nuclear Security plans to conduct the maintenance during a series of work outages in the 9212 complex.

According to the safety board report, that plan will probably hinder the plant’s production missions in the short term. However, the revitalized equipment should enable Y-12 to increase the production of purified uranium metal in fiscal year 2017 and beyond, the report said.

The NNSA and its Oak Ridge contractor have not yet released information on when Y-12 expects to reach the production goal of 1,000 kilograms per year.

Officials said previously stated they want to curtail operations in 9212 no later than 2025. Some work is being moved to other Y-12 facilities, and there are plans for a new, multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

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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.