Y-12’s leak city

9212Overview of the aged Building 9212 at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. (Y-12 photo)

In a newly released activity report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Board, it was noted that a Y-12 engineer received contamination on his forearm when a “drop of process solution” dripped from overhead in the C-1 Wing of Building 9212 — the plant’s main facility for processing highly enriched uranium.

The report noted that even though the non-destructive assay engineer was wearing the appropriate protective clothing, the acidic solution soaked through the nylon cloth and resulted in skin contamination. The first attempt to remove the radioactive residue was apparently not fully successful, but a second effort “reduced the (radiation) readings to less-than-detectable levels,” the safety board staff reported.

The drip of uranium solution reportedly came from the connection between a drain valve and a section of tubing.

The same report, dated May 9, also noted a “separate but similar event,” which involved a maintenance worker on a scaffold in the B-1 Wing of 9212 who identified some “discoloration” on the forearm of his protective coveralls. “With the support of radiological control personnel, the worker doffed his PPE (personal protective equipment) and discovered skin contamination on his forearm.” The report said, in this instance, the contamination levels were lower and easier to remove than the other incident at 9212. A fact-finding effort was expected to address the issues.

Leaks are a common occurrence in the uranium processing facility, as described in this report by the DNFSB staff assigned to the Oak Ridge plant:

“Building 9212 is 71 years old and the processing equipment requires continuous maintenance to keep it operating safely. CNS Facility Engineering personnel have closely tracked and pursued repairs of identified leaks.

“In 2010, there were 120 identified leaks from various equipment awaiting repair in Building 9212, but continuous effort to repair new and previously identified leaks has reduced the number of leaks awaiting repair to 47.”

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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.