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.

Recalling the joys of reporting

munger1984If there was one place, just one, to sit and reflect on the past 35 years, I guess I’d have to choose a seat in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Central Auditorium. Somewhere on the right side, maybe about the fifth row. That was generally close enough to get a look at the stage, but far enough back to be enveloped by the crowd and feel the excitement as the room began to fill. It was positioned so I could dash to the stage for an interview afterward or make a quick exit to the hallway if time was short and a deadline was near.

ORNL’s old-style auditorium, kind of musty and sloped from front to back, was where I first embraced the joy of my job. Continue reading

Smith named North Wind communications chief

annesmithAnne Smith, who previously held public affairs roles with Safety and Ecology Corp., Perma-Fix Environmental and URS/CH2M Oak Ridge, has been named the communications chief at North Wind Group.

North Wind is a small business on the rise, recently taking over management of the Department of Energy’s Transuranic Waste Processing Center in Oak Ridge. The company is based in Idaho Falls. Smith will be located in the company’s Knoxville office. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Lawler-Wood to develop new complex at Pantex

Aerial photoConceptual design of planned Administrative Support Complex at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Texas. Construction is expected to begin in August.

Lawler-Wood LLC of Knoxville will develop a new 342,000-square-foot administative complex at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant under a private-financing arrangement similar to what was used for two facilities — New Hope Center and Jack Case Center — at Y-12 in Oak Ridge.

Wayne Roquemore, president of Lawler-Wood, said the complex will be built on property that’s adjacent to Pantex and currently owned by Texas Tech University. The land will be purchased from the university, he said.

Once developed by Lawler-Wood, with financing via Panhandle Economic Development Corp., it will be leased by an ownership  group to Consolidated Nuclear Security — the government’s managing contractor at Pantex and Y-12. CNS said it had received approval from the National Nuclear Security Administration to negotiate the lease. The initial lease term will reportedly be for five years, with multiple options for the future. Continue reading

China’s new supercomputer takes world lead; Titan drops to No. 3 on TOP500

summitpicChina has retained the top spot on the TOP500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers with a newly developed system built entirely with Chinese-made processors, according to Monday’s announcement at the biannual International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

The new system — dubbed Sunway TaihuLight — is reportedly capable of 93 million billion calculations per second or 93 petaflops. China’s Tianha-2, which previously was ranked No. 1, dropped to the second slot, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Titan supercomputer, a Cray XK7 system, is third on the newly released list.

ORNL is currently working with IBM on a next-generation supercomputer that will be called Summit (conceptual image, insert) and reportedly capable of 150 to 300 petaflops. It is scheduled to be delivered next year and achieve full operations in 2018. Continue reading

Reporters at work (1946)

84120Tim Gawne of Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been a wonderful help to me over the years, providing historical documents and photos and insights that helped tell the Oak Ridge story. In honor of my upcoming retirement at the end of the month, he dug into the lab’s archives once again and provided a couple of pics that show reporters at work in the early days. The one here shows journalists covering the first delivery of radioisotopes for research. The date was Aug. 2, 1946.

DelCul wins Seaborg Award

delcul Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Bill DelCul has received the Glenn T. Seaborg Award at the 40th Actinide Separations Conference.

He was honored for his long and extraordinary career in nuclear science and engineering with research on “actinide separations, processing of used nuclear fuel, high temperature molten salts, technical support of enrichment activities and national security-related research.” Continue reading

Saddleworn reporter heading out of Dodge

As I finished up a recent Chinese dinner of chicken with black bean sauce, I cracked open my fortune cookie and glanced at the message inside.

“All things have an end,” it said, fittingly enough as I get ready for retirement at the end of the month.munger1

For the past 35 years, maybe a little more, I’ve covered the Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge operations. It’s a news beat I created at the News Sentinel after serving as state editor and realizing the wealth of news potential at the government facilities.

It’s been a pleasantly bumpy ride these many years, with a lot of highlights and some unusual happenings. I’m kind of proud of some of the things accomplished. Continue reading

IG report raises flags on UCOR cost claims

An assessment by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General raised questions about hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs incurred by DOE’s Oak Ridge cleanup contractor — URS/CH2M Oak Ridge — but UCOR said it resolved all of the issues before the report was made public this week.ucorpic

The IG regularly conducts reviews of DOE’s managing contractors to evaluate whether costs claimed under their federal contracts are allowable and properly accounted for during internal audit. The report released Wednesday looked at UCOR’s first three years on the job — Fiscal Years 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The report also said more than $250 million in subcontractor costs had not been audited for those first three years under UCOR’s leadership and those, too, are considered to be unresolved until the audits are completed. Continue reading