Category Archives: uranium

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’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

A look at Y-12’s uranium storehouse

Photograph HEUMF razor wire.Y-12 photo

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

Revamping facilities is key to Y-12’s uranium future

beta2e-thumb-619x629-19813.jpgThe 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

HEU from Japan arrives at Y-12

The National Nuclear Security Administration today announced that highly enriched uranium from Japan’s Fast Critical Assembly reactor has arrived at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, where it reportedly will be placed in secure storage and later processed and down-blended to create low-enriched uranium.

“Any use of the enriched uranium or its byproducts shall be subject to all terms of the Agreement for Cooperation and any bilateral agreements between the governments of Japan  and the United States,” the NNSA release stated. Continue reading

K-27 demolition moves ahead furiously; preparations underway for other Cold War facilities

Poplar Creek MapAerial view with some of the Poplar Creek Facilities in the foreground. Below is recent photo of K-27 demolition. (DOE/Lynn Freeny)

The post-Cold War cleanup is proceeding at a furious pace at an Oak Ridge site once home to the nation’s largest uranium-enrichment complex.26504269220_6547c787a4_k

With K-27, the last of five gaseous diffusion plants, coming down quicker than expected and likely to be demolished before the year-end target date, the U.S. Department of Energy has started making preparations to tear down a bunch of other old buildings that once supported the nuclear program.

URS-CH2M Oak Ridge, DOE’s cleanup manager, has taken advantage of favorable weather conditions to accelerate the demolition of K-27, which ceased operations in 1964. The four-story, 383,000-square foot building is highly contaminated and equally deteriorated. Continue reading

Centrus names Cutlip VP for field ops

Centrus Energy Corp. has named Larry B. Cutlip as vice president for field operations, effective May 23. He will oversee the company’s activities in Oak Ridge, Ohio and Kentucky. Cutlip will assume the duties of Steven Penrod, vice president for American Centrifuge, who’s leaving the company at the end of June. Cutlip will also retain his role as president of American Centrifuge Manufacturing, a wholly owned subsidiary. He’ll be based in Oak Ridge, where the centrifuge research activities are taking place.

Here’s a statement from Centrus President Dan Poneman: Continue reading

A little crowded at UPF?

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.KCLO_END_UPF-02_MP (2)

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

NNSA releases performance details for Y-12/Pantex contractor’s first report card

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.Basic RGB

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

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