Author Archives: Frank Munger

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.

Good times

muddyboot1On Wednesday evening, East Tennessee Economic Council President Jim Campbell presented me with The Muddy Boot Award at a retirement reception hosted by the Oak Ridge Partnership. (Photo by D. Ray Smith)

My colleague and friend John Huotari of Oak Ridge Today wrote a nice piece capping the event.

Oh, my

muddybootI don’t think I can fully express my gratitude for the reception thrown in my honor this evening by the Oak Ridge Partnership. Thank you for all the kind and generous words and the chance to see old colleagues and friends. New ones, too. I am stunned by the outpouring of praise for my work since I announced my retirement several weeks ago. Wow. I don’t know if I’m deserving, but it feels really good to have your career validated on multiple fronts.

Thank you and thank you again.

And, yes, I am now the proud holder of The Muddy Boot Award. That’s something I didn’t see coming.

ORNL part of administration’s beat-cancer program

supercomputingpicOak Ridge National Laboratory is part of the Obama administration’s sweeping program to defeat cancer, joining with other labs and the National Cancer Institute on pilot projects that use supercomputers to analyze data on how cancer develops and to accelerate development of promising therapies.

The Cancer Moonshot program, led by Vice President Joe Biden, hosted a summit Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to draw attention to projects around the country that involve hundreds of researchers, oncologists and technologies of many types. Continue reading

The new-jobs breakdown at Y-12, Pantex

Basic RGBAs noted in an earlier post, Consolidated Nuclear Security has hired more than 650 new workers in Fiscal Year 2016 — more than halfway to the goal of 1,150 new hires at the two plants managed by CNS, Y-12 in Oak Ridge and Pantex in Amarillo, Texas.

CNS today gave the breakdown by plant. More than 350 of the new workers are at Y-12, and more than 300 at Pantex.

A uranium back-up

Air ducts associated with a Holden Gas Furnace at Y-12 last month reportedly had a build-up of uranium particles that exceeded nuclear safety limits, prompting a temporary pause in operations associated with the recycling of highly enriched uranium.

The issue was reported in a recently released May 23 staff memo by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board assigned to the Oak Ridge plant. Continue reading

DOE report cites criticality alarm issues at Y-12

Radiation (2)A newly released Department of Energy assessment of the criticality accident alarm system at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant said the operation is “adequately” maintained, but the review team identified two “deficiencies” that raised uncertainty as to whether the system will fully function as planned.

A nuclear criticality accident is an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction with release of dangerous levels of radiation. Such an accident is Y-12’s biggest fear because of the huge volume of fissionable material — highly enriched uranium — that is stored and processed at the Oak Ridge plant. The only criticality accident in Y-12 history occurred June 16, 1958, and eight workers were hospitalized with severe doses of radiation. (Accident scene is pictured, right.)

The new assessment was conducted earlier this year, and it included a review of the alarm components in four Y-12 facilities — Buildings 9212, Beta-2E, 9215 and 9720-5 — that are involved in the handling of enriched uranium. Continue reading

Y-12/Pantex contractor hires more than 650

Consolidated Nuclear Security, the government’s managing contractor at the Y-12 and Pantex nuclear weapons plants, confirmed that it has hired more than 650 employees since the start of Fiscal Year 2016.Basic RGB

That’s more than halfway to the hiring target of 1,150 jobs for the two National Nuclear Security Administration sites. The breakdown of hirings by plant was not available. Continue reading

Talking science like it’s 1994

27559145850_2834636c68_kIt was April 29, 1994, and Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary was taking a tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She’s shown here listening to a presentation at ORNL’s High Temperature Materials Laboratory. O’Leary, who’s holding some research product in her hands, seems to be the only one who’s paying attention — and that may be marginal. From left, KNS reporter Frank Munger, ORNL Director Al Trivelpiece, O’Leary, and U.S. Rep. Marilyn Lloyd. (DOE photo/Lynn Freeny)

Liang accepts leadership role at Pacific Northwest Lab

liang2Liyuan Liang, a celebrated chemist and emerging science administrator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been named director of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory in Washington state. The lab is a research user facility at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Liang has performed multiple roles at ORNL, including a tenure as director of the lab’s Office of Institutional Planning. She also headed a scientific team that tackled many of the perplexing issues about mercury in the environment — including how mercury is transformed into methylmercury, its most toxic form.

Allison Campbell, an associate director at Pacific Northwest, said in a statement: Continue reading

Before they tore old K-25 down

27225999143_f853665d3d_kHere I am getting prepped with protective gear before going inside the K-25 plant, which was being readied for demolition. Before the May 1, 2004 tour, there was a bit of a confrontation. Not only were we not allowed to bring any electronics into the classified facility, but at the last minute a classification officer also wanted to review my handwritten notes following the tour. I refused and was ready to walk away. Ultimately, the contractor relented. But, to be honest, while wearing gear and breathing protection, it was kind of hard to take notes anyway. (Department of Energy photo/Lynn Freeny)

Still no decision on bringing tritium to CNS contract

Basic RGBThe National Nuclear Security Administration today confirmed it has not yet made a decision on whether to exercise an option to incorporate the tritium activities at the Savannah River Site into the Y-12/Pantex management contract held by Consolidated Nuclear Security. The CNS contract is coming up on its two-year anniversary. The Bechtel-led team assumed responsibility for managing the two plants on July 1, 2014. Continue reading