This 2014 photograph shows earth-moving equipment involved in site preparations for the Uranium Processing Facility. (NNSA photo)
Excavation activities at the future site of the Uranium Processing Facility have uncovered another radioactive remnant of earlier operations at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.
A 4-foot-by-4-foot piece of radioactive metal was unearthed on March 9, according to a quarterly occurrence report filed last week by Consolidated Nuclear Security, the government’s managing contractor at Y-12.
There was no immediate information on the metal’s former role or why it was buried on the west end of the Oak Ridge plant, where the multibillion-dollar UPF is to be built.
“The item was placed in a B-25 (large-sized) container and staged in a radioactive material area,” the report stated.
This is by no means the first time that workers doing site preparations for the UPF have unearthed radioactive legacies at Y-12.
Occurrence reports filed by the contractor indicate there have been more than 50 of these “events” over the past couple of years during preparations for the big project, which is to supposed to modernize the plant’s operations for processing bomb-grade uranium.
Project officials have said actual construction of facilities will not begin until design is 90 percent complete. That milestone is tentatively scheduled for late 2017, with first operations planned for around 2025.
In the meantime, the focus is on site preparations. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the pre-construction activities for UPF.
A project to relocate sections of Bear Creek Road was interrupted multiple times during 2014 and 2015 because of underground pits of radioactive trash encountered during the earth-moving operations.
The National Nuclear Security Administration did not comment Tuesday on the most recent report of radioactive debris uncovered at the future site of UPF.
In 2014, during a visit to the site on Y-12’s west end, NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt said most of the contaminated materials had been found several feet underground, up to 14 feet in some instances.
Screenings were conducted before activities began at the UPF site, including soil samples, but officials said it was difficult to predict where underground hazards might reside.
Asked why radioactive materials were buried at site that apparently were not authorized for disposal, Wyatt said at the time, “I don’t think anyone really has an answer on that.”
The radioactive equipment and debris uncovered at the site have been packaged in containers and, in some cases, shipped to the government’s Nevada National Security Site for disposal.
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