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.
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 →
The Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility is a massive structure on the west side of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and it may very well house the world’s largest inventory of bomb-grade uranium at a single location.
That’s not clear because the actual amount of uranium in storage is classified. Plus, it’s constantly changing as nuclear weapons are retired from the arsenal and the enriched uranium is recycled for use in other weapons or reserved as fuel for the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Continue reading →
The Beta-2E facility is located in the foreground of this view of the main production complex at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Building 9215 is to the left of Beta-2E. The government’s revised strategy for the Uranium Processing Facility depends not only on construction of a cluster of new facilities to process bomb-grade uranium but also leans heavily on extending the life of some existing production buildings — notably 9215 and Beta-2E. (Y-12 photo)
The future of the uranium mission at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant depends partly on extending of life of two production facilities — Beta-2E and Building 9215 — that are already 46 and 59 years old respectively.
The strategy will require innovative ways to rebuild electrical systems and others parts of the plant’s aged infrastructure, as well as a pervasive focus on worker safety and a steady stream of federal funding for the next 20 years.
Details of the plan are contained in a government report on Y-12’s “Life Extension Program,” which was obtained by the News Sentinel under a Freedom of Information Act request. Continue reading →
As noted before, the folks at the Uranium Processing Facility have been a little secretive about work on the multi-billion-dollar government project. Among other things, they’ve declined to release information on the cost of office space being leased in Commerce Park for the design and engineering activities. The project activities were consolidated there over the past six months.
In 2013, the project team indicated the cost of leased facilities was about $2.2 million annually, but the team is bigger now — reportedly more than 900 people.
I recently asked Consolidated Nuclear Security, the government’s managing contractor at Y-12, about reports of overcrowding at the two UPF facilities in Commerce Park and whether the UPF workforce was exceeding the occupancy limits. I’d received reports of employees having to stand in line to use the restrooms and a report that the parking lots were filled by 6:30 a.m., with others having to catch shuttles to the site. Continue reading →
As noted last December, when the performance scores and fee totals became available for Consolidated Nuclear Security’s first report card, the Y-12/Pantex contractor received an overall score of 57 (out of 100) and earned about $42.6 million (out of a maximum pool of $51.2 million). In a message to employees at the two sites, then-President Jim Haynes expressed his disappointment.
Now, several months later, the National Nuclear Security Administration has finally released the performance evaluation for the government contractor — a partnership that’s headed by Bechtel and includes Lockheed Martin and other companies — and it provides a more detailed look at why CNS received a low score for the period ending Sept. 30, 2015.
Some of the language is pretty blunt, such as this excerpt from the NNSA’s assessment of operations and infrastructure (which accounts for 35 percent of the at-risk fee): Continue reading →
The Senate earlier today passed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for FY 2017, which would provide a big boost in funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and would provide $575 million for continued development of the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a primary architect of the bill, said in a statement: Continue reading →
Because of scaled-down plans for the Uranium Processing Facility, reduced new construction to save money and modifications to old existing buildings to make them last longer, the National Nuclear Security Administration did a 54-page “supplement analysis” to the Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant that was conducted back in 2011.
According to the newly released report, the NNSA concluded that the identified and projected environmental impacts of the new plans for UPF would not “differ significantly” from those impacts identified in the 2011 report and do not require a more substantial makeover of the environmental studies. Continue reading →
As noted in a recent post, there have been more than 50 “events” in which radioactive materials were uncovered during the site preparation for the Uranium Processing Facility over the past couple of years, including a big piece of rad metal discovered on March 9. A government spokesman said the discoveries were an “anticipated project risk” at the old nuclear site.
Asked for some context on the hazards of the radioactive materials recently found buried at the site, National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Steven Wyatt provided this response by email: Continue reading →
Steven Wyatt, a spokesman in the National Nuclear Security Administration, today provided an email response to questions about the radioactive metal uncovered last month during site preparation for the Uranium Processing Facility.
“The contaminated debris was discovered on March 8 when the USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) was performing work in support the UPF Site Infrastructure and Services Subproject. The debris included two contaminated metal pallets. Encountering contaminated items is an anticipated project risk for the UPF work scope. The work remains on budget and schedule.”
Kevin Collins, left, and Dennie Kelley of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance were among the protesters who gathered around noon Thursday outside the Federal Building in downtown Knoxville. The “Tell the Taxpayer” rally was staged to draw attention to the amount of money being spent on nuclear weapons and modernization of production facilities. (KNS photo/Frank Munger)
Main production area at Y-12 includes Beta-2E in the foreground. (NNSA photo)
One of the ways the National Nuclear Security Administration and its contractors were able to reduce the scope and cost of the multibillion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was their decision to extend the life of some the plant’s existing facilities.
This philosophy was contained in the 2014 report by a review team headed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason, and it’s starting to take shape.
The plan is to make infrastructure upgrades to a couple of Y-12’s long-time production facilities, Building 9215 and Building 9204-2E (also known as Beta-2E). That will allow material-processing activities to continue there or possibly even be expanded in years to come. If that proves successful, it will reduce the need for mission space in the newly constructed UPF complex — still in design stages — and presumably lower the project’s price tag. Continue reading →
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, which includes the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance and other activist groups situated near Department of Energy nuclear sites, has produced a 20-page report that blasts the government’s spending on nuclear weapons. The title of the report is “Trillion Dollar Train Wreck,” referencing plans to spend about $1 trillion over the next 30 years on modernization of nuclear weapons, delivery systems and weapons-related facilities.
In a telephone call with reporters this afternoon after the subcommittee mark-up for the FY 2017 energy and water appropriations bill, U.s. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the bill contains nearly $3 billion for Oak Ridge activities. That would include funding for Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex, as well as money ($575 million) to complete design for the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 and $263 million for nuclear waste cleanup and other environmental activities on the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge reservation. The full Appropriations Committee in the Senate is expected to vote on the bill Thursday. Continue reading →