Category Archives: DNFSB

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

Issues at Stack 110

stack110It seems there’s been a recent trend of problems at Stack 110, a key emissions point in the old uranium-processing complex known as Building 9212. Significant improvements were made at the site a few years ago, combining two emission stacks as part of a risk-reduction program. But issues seem to keep cropping up there.

Early this year, casting operations with enriched uranium were paused at 9212 because a couple of feet of water had collected in a “discharge tube” below Stack 110’s dust collector. That raised questions about criticality safety that warranted a closer look. Continue reading

Another uranium overload

y12overviewNewly released reports have spotlighted an incident in which too much uranium-bearing material was loaded into a sample bottle — violating nuclear safety rules — and transferred from one facility to another inside the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

The problem was discovered after the magnesium oxide sample, containing residual amounts of fissionable U-235, arrived at the Oak Ridge plant’s in-house analytical lab, where it had been sent for evaluation.

The situation was discussed in a couple of weekly activity reports by staff members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. One of those reports was posted on the federal safety board’s website, and Y-12 contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security released the other report upon request and responded to questions. Continue reading

Yes, the report is done, but you can’t have it

beta2eNNSA Administrator Frank G. Klotz last month responded to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board about the board’s concerns on the Electrorefining Project at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

Part of that response dealt with updated information on project plans, including a structural analysis of old facilities (Building 9998) where the project will be housed. That analysis is part of the ongoing efforts to extend the life of buildings in Y-12’s main production zone — including Beta-2E and Building 9215. Continue reading

Klotz provides update to DNFSB on Y-12 project

klotz1In a Jan. 7 letter to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz provided an update on the Electrorefining Project at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and how the project is addressing issues/concerns raised by the safety board last October.

The Electrorefining Project is supposed to replace some of the uranium recovery processes currently carried out in the aged 9212 complex at the Oak Ridge plant. The NNSA is trying to get out of 9212 as soon as possible because of its deteriorated condition. Continue reading

Fixing equipment at 9212 a key part of uranium project

Y-12 is trying to clean house, so to speak, at its main uranium-processing center — the notoriously antiquated 9212 complex, parts of which date back to the World War II Manhattan Project.9212

To prepare for eventual closure of 9212 and to reduce the risks at the old facility, the government’s contractor (Consolidated Nuclear Security) is trying to process scraps of weapons-grade uranium — including nuclear material that’s contained in solutions — for removal and safe storage elsewhere at the site.

The uranium-removal project was emphasized earlier this year in a message from top officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration, including the federal agency’s uranium program chief, Tim Driscoll. The letter challenged the Y-12 contractor to double its production of purified uranium metal to 1,000 kilograms per year. That project will reportedly convert the uranium to a form suitable for transfer to storage facilities elsewhere at the site. Continue reading

DNFSB raises emergency-management concerns at Pantex

pantex2The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, in a Nov. 24 letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, outlined multiple concerns with emergency management at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant and identified steps to be taken in the official Recommendation 2015-1, which builds upon earlier correspondence addressing the need for improvements in the nuclear weapons complex.

Among the concerns at Pantex: inadequate drill and exercises programs; no demonstrated capability to provide timely, accurate information to the public regarding off-site radiological consequences; and inadequate technical planning bases and decision-making tools. Continue reading

Federal safety board raises questions on Electrorefining Project at Y-12

beta2e2The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has raised a number of questions and safety concerns about the Electrorefining Project, which is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s plans to replace the existing uranium recovery processes at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The Department of Energy has approved the project for development, and it is estimated to cost between $58.6 million and $76.7 million.

In an Oct. 29 letter to NNSA Administrator Frank G. Klotz, safety board Chairman Joyce Connery said staff members of the DNFSB had reviewed the conceptual design activities and the safety basis work on the Electrorefining Project and had identified some issues of concern. Continue reading

Reshaping uranium operations at Y-12

beta2e-thumb-619x629-19813.jpgThe electrofining work with highly enriched uranium will take place in Building 9998, which is near the top left of this aerial view of Y-12’s production complex. (NNSA photo)

Federal overseers have given preliminary approval for a new uranium purification facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, with a price range between $58.6 million and $76.7 million.

The “electrorefining” project is scheduled to come online in the summer of 2021, and it’s supposed to replace a similar capability in the plant’s 70-year-old 9212 complex, which the government wants to vacate as soon as possible. Continue reading

Electrorefining Project at Y-12 could cost up to $76.7M

The National Nuclear Security Administration has approved development of a new uranium-purification capability at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and the estimated cost range for the project is between $58.6 million and $76.7 million. The information was revealed in a newly released memorandum by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board assigned to Y-12.y12overview

The Electrorefining Project at Y-12’s Building 9215 will replace an “analogous capability” that’s currently housed in the 70-year-old 9212 complex that the government and its contractors are trying to vacate as soon as possible. The electrorefining technology will be used to purify uranium metal, an essential part of the enriched uranium activities at the Oak Ridge plant. The report indicated that the electrorefining operation may not come online until the summer of 2021. Continue reading

‘Bulged and hissing’ and other drum problems at Y-12

thewarehouse.jpgGiven the nature of the work at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, much of it involving uranium that doesn’t require a lot of shielding, there’s an abundance of 55-gallon drums used for storage and transport. And, based on a review of recent occurrence reports at Y-12 and incident summaries by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, bad things occasionally happen when you put a bunch of stuff in a drum, put a lid on it and let it sit for a while.

According to a late-August report by safety board staffers assigned to Y-12, the plant shift superintendent authorized “emergency work” to deal with the discovery of several pressurized drums at Building 9215. And, during an effort to vent those drums, some Fire Department personnel — who fortunately had donned HAZMAT suits and respiratory equipment — got sprayed with a “viscous material.” Again, fortunately, the protective gear did its job, and a subsequent survey determined that they had not become contaminated with radioactivity. Continue reading

Another issue at Fogbank production facility

purification-001Officials at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant confirmed that an “unexpected reaction” took place last month during startup of operations at Building 9225-3 (the Purification Facility). The facility is known to be the location for production of Fogbank, a classified material used in some thermonuclear weapons — such as the W76 (Trident) warhead.

“Because of unique system alignments during start up following maintenance, two operations being conducted at the same time used two procedures that caused an unexpected reaction from the wet chemistry equipment and vapor recovery system,” Ellen Boatner, a spokeswoman for Y-12 contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security, said in an email response to questions. Continue reading

Annual checkup at 9212: good and not so good

9212An annual review of conditions at Y-12’s 9212 uranium complex did not find any safety problems that would warrant limiting operations at the World War II-era facility, according to a newly released memo by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. It reportedly noted some accomplishments over the past year, such as establishing an administrative limit for “material at risk” in 9212.

However, the review by the Continued Safe Operability Oversight Team (CSOOT) did note continuing concerns about the “growing maintenance backlog” of equipment at the key uranium-processing facility at the Oak Ridge plant, the Aug. 7 memo by the DNFSB staff states. Continue reading