Main production area at Y-12 includes Beta-2E in the foreground. (NNSA photo)
One of the ways the National Nuclear Security Administration and its contractors were able to reduce the scope and cost of the multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was their decision to extend the life of some the plant’s existing facilities.
This philosophy was contained in the 2014 report by a review team headed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, and it’s starting to take shape.
The plan is to make infrastructure upgrades to a couple of Y-12’s long-time production facilities, Building 9215 and Building 9204-2E (also known as Beta-2E). That will allow material-processing activities to continue there or possibly even be expanded in years to come. If that proves successful, it will reduce the need for mission space in the newly constructed UPF complex — still in design stages — and presumably lower the project’s price tag.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a key member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said there is a commitment to capping UPF’s cost at $6.5 billion.
Essential to extending the operational life of facilities with bomb-grade uranium and other hazardous materials will be minimizing the risks to workers and the general public.
According to a recently released report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, aging electrical equipment is one of the most significant issues at 9215 and Beta-2E (where nuclear warhead parts are assembled and taken apart).
To help address those concerns, the National Nuclear Security Administration this year began funding a project called Nuclear Facilities Electrical Modernization, the report stated. The safety board staff assigned to Y-12 said the electrical rehab is expected to cost about $85 million and is scheduled for completion by the end of Fiscal Year 2020.
The project apparently will gut some of the buildings’ electrical equipment, including switchgears and motor control centers and lighting panels, and install new stuff.
Consolidated Nuclear Security, the government’s managing contractor at Y-12, recently posed the question on its website: “How do you make your buildings last?”
The answer to that question may come from the plant’s “Extended Life Program,” which has been tapping expertise from other nuclear facilities — including the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom. Two workshops have already been held
CNS said it is using a three-prong approach to “aging management.”
That includes, where possible, removing as much of the “material at risk” as possible. That means keeping the inventory of enriched uranium as low as possible, thus minimizing the potential consequences of an accident or unexpected event.
Another priority is replacing or refurbishing process equipment to improve the safety and efficiency of operations.
The third point of emphasis is to comply with regulations while extending operations far beyond the original design life of old nuclear facilities.
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