Category Archives: DNFSB

Y-12’s HEU canning operations moved to Beta-2E

beta2eThe “canning” of weapons-grade uranium at Y-12, operations traditionally carried out at the 9212 uranium complex, are being moved to Beta-2E — a facility where nuclear warhead components are assembled and dismantled.

The move, which was reported in a newly released memo by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, appears to be part of effort to move more and more work out of 9212 — the World War II-era complex that’s considered the riskiest of the Y-12 production facilities.

Shifting some of the work at 9212 to other facilities at Y-12 was one of the recommendations of the Red Team, headed by ORNL Director Thom Mason, which last year evaluated alternative plans to the Uranium Processing Facility. Continue reading

The ceiling watch is on at Y-12

photo-013The Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has been notorious for falling ceilings for quite a while now.

During his heyday in Washington, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a powerful supporter of the nuclear weapons complex, sometimes used Y-12 as a poster child for the decaying infrastructure at research and production facilities.

In a 2001 speech, Domenici emphasized his point: “Some workers at the Y-12 plant in Tennessee have to wear hard hats, not because the work is inherently dangerous, but because chunks of concrete are falling off the ceiling.” Continue reading

Reducing material at risk in Y-12 production facilities

A point of emphasis in preparing for the multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 is to reduce the inventory of highly enriched uranium in existing production facilities — with a particular focus on removing “material at risk” in the World War II-era 9212 uranium complex. There reportedly has been progress made over the past six months.

9212.jpgThe stated goal is to be out of 9212 no later than 2025, but in the meantime reducing the amount of weapons-grade uranium in the building reportedly can improve the safety of operations.

Consolidated Nuclear Security, the government’s managing contractor, last year implemented temporary measures — via a “Standing Order” — to meet the National Nuclear Security Administration request to reduce the enriched uranium in 9212 by 40 percent. More recently, according to staff reports by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, these guidelines have been incorporated into the Technical Safety Requirements for the nuclear facility and made part of the Safety Analysis Report. Continue reading

The technology path out of 9212

9212As the government and its contractors move forward with a revised strategy for the Uranium Processing Facility, the emphasis remains on getting out of the aged 9212 uranium complex as soon as possible. And doing that apparently requires the development and/or enhancement of alternative technologies for processing bomb-grade uranium.

One of those technologies is an “electro-refining” method for purifying the uranium. Although the National Nuclear Security Administration has acknowledged that project, it has provided few details about plans for deploying the technology or the progress. Continue reading

Y-12 ‘meets expectations’ on nuclear criticality safety

9212The aged 9212 complex is Y-12’s main processing facility for highly enriched uranium. It is scheduled to be replaced by 2025 by the Uranium Processing Facility. (NNSA photo)

According to the Department of Energy’s annual report on nuclear criticality safety, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant — which houses the nation’s principal supply of bomb-grade uranium — “meets expectations” in its overall performance.

The 76-page report addresses issues and improvements made at DOE sites during Fiscal Year 2014, and one of the key issues at Y-12 was increasing the staff needed to deal with criticality safety. A chart indicates that Y-12 staff is 26 FTEs (full-time equivalents) and notes that Y-12 had a shortage of about 12 FTEs “relative to identified work scope” in Fiscal Year 2015. It noted at the time that Y-12 was actively hiring 10 new crit-safety engineers and that three had already been hired. “General improvements were noted from FY 2013,” the report stated. Continue reading

After the earthquake

upfbldgpicIn a June 25 letter to the federal oversight boss at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, Jessie Roberson — vice chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — asked for more info on the planned design for a “confinement ventilation system” at the Uranium Processing Facility.

According to Roberson letter, the safety board’s staff evaluated the safety design strategy for the multibillion-dollar UPF — which would house the plant’s future operations with bomb-grade uranium — and noted that it may not be up to standard if the confinement system is needed to provide “defense-in-depth.” If that’s the case, she wrote, the design may not meet DOE’s own requirements for confining radioactive materials following a design basis earthquake. Continue reading

Y-12 conduct of operations: another round of problems

y12overviewAs noted in previous posts, there have been persistent concerns about the conduct of operations at Y-12 this year, many of which have been spelled out in reports by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. That trend seems to be continuing.

In a recently released staff report for the week ending May 15, site reps William Linzau and Rory Rauch cited a list of errors involving conduct of operations and work planning and control for the prior two weeks. Those problems included: Continue reading

More conduct of operations issues at Y-12; contractor acknowledges lack of progress

9212.jpgAerial view of the 9212 uranium-processing complex at Y-12. (NNSA photo credit)

Operational issues continue to be a concern at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

A newly released report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, dated the week of May 8, reveals another incident at the 9212 complex — the plant’s hub for processing bomb-grade uranium.

According the report, an operator working on the Oxide Conversion Facility “made several errors,” including performing a procedure that had already been done. Oxide conversion is a critical part of the plant’s ability to recycle scraps of enriched uranium. Continue reading

Mystery ‘irritant’ in the air at historic Y-12 facility


Building 9731, the original pilot facility for uranium-enrichment work at Y-12, was completed in March 1943. It is Y-12’s oldest building.

The oldest building at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant has come under scrutiny because of a mysterious airborne “irritant” that’s afflicted at least five workers in recent months.

y9731The issue apparently was first recognized in February when a security police officer entered Building 9731 — the original pilot facility for uranium enrichment during the World War II Manhattan Project — and experienced “throat irritation and coughing” due to something in the air.

A Feb. 27 report by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said the cause of the irritation was believed to be “vapors or dust from an activity to process lithium hydroxide.” The report said the lithium work was being carried out by the Y-12 Development Division, which is the plant’s research arm.

Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office, which oversees Y-12 operations, confirmed that the Development Division had conducted research at the old facility in recent months. However, Wyatt refused to say whether the operations involved lithium. Continue reading

Problems with conduct of operations at Y-12

photo-013Recently released reports indicate there have been persistent problems with “conduct of operations” — not doing things like they should be done — at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

The incidents, as revealed in reports by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, have occurred in Y-12’s key production facilities where highly enriched uranium and other materials — including lithium compounds — are processed, machined or assembled for use in nuclear weapons parts.

Because of the high-hazard work that takes place at the Oak Ridge installation and the national security missions involved, employees are expected to perform their work in strict accordance with procedures and pay extraordinary attention to safety and security. Even small deviations from work plans often have the potential for serious consequences. Continue reading

Somebody call Ripley’s: Uranium bomb part gains weight during machining operation at Y-12

uranium.jpgThe folks at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant are mighty particular when measuring quantities of bomb-grade uranium, tracking the material virtually down to the atom to make sure that even the smallest amounts aren’t lost or diverted.

Therefore, it must have been a big surprise last month when a Y-12 engineer determined that a uranium bomb part had gained weight during a machining operation. Continue reading