UPF too big for its britches?

photo (9)-002.JPGThere are continuing reports out the Uranium Processing Facility design camp (door, pictured) and those familiar with the work that there are real difficulties in fitting all of the desired equipment into UPF's prescribed space. According to one report I received, the building was at least 20-25 percent too small for the equipment planned, adding to the worries as design enters the final stages for the multi-billion-dollar project.

During a sit-down interview earlier this summer with John Eschenberg, UPF's federal project director, I asked about a report that the fit issues were such that the government's contractor was looking to eliminate some of the gloveboxes -- long a UPF selling-point as a way to reduce internal radiation exposures at Y-12, the highest by far in the DOE complex -- in order to save space.

Eschenberg acknowledged the issue, but downplayed the severity of the situation. "I think a fair way to say it is there are some pieces of equipment -- gloveboxes and others -- that need to be optimized, such that they fit in the building, that the building is operational and is maintainable. Because you can jam everything in there, but you've got to give the operators room to operate. You've got to give yourself room to maintain the building. So you're trying to find this optimum amount of space."

Asked specifically if the UPF team was considering eliminating lines of gloveboxes in order to save space, Eschenberg said, "I'm looking at everything, top to bottom."

I asked again, noting that much had been made of workers being able to work in UPF in their street clothes, without so much personal protection, because of the use of gloveboxes and other protective measures.

Eschenberg confirmed that UPF is intended to eliminate Y-12's place as the leader in internal dose. But he noted that some operations are much bigger contributors to that dose potential than others.

"Casting is one of the largest contributors to internal dose," he said, noting that casting and chemical recovery are definitely areas that are going to have gloveboxes.

"The bulk of these facilities are going to have gloveboxes," he said.

But, Eschenberg said, there are other jobs that might not have to be done in gloveboxes, and machining apparently is one of those.

"There are a number of candidate areas -- machining may be the best one -- where we can eliminate the gloveboxes," the federal project director said.

There are some machining operations that, ergonomically, may be difficult to accomplish inside gloveboxes because of the heavy weight of uranium, Eschenberg said. While machining operations are a contributor to internal rad dose at Y-12, there's a balance in considering what to do, he said.

"If you look at the machining operation, much of the internal dose attribution is based on individual techniques, and how experienced the machinists are," he said. "Generally these things are done out in the open. But if the machinist is using the very best technique and using protective equipment like his gloves -- and actually washing his hands in the machine shops -- what you see is the internal doses come down."

Eschenberg compared the challenge of fitting all the equipment into the UPF building to the challenge of designing a car to meet a certain weight.

"If you're building a new Porsche, designers want the car to weigh 3,000 pounds, and they want it to go 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds, want it to have so-and-so horsepower engine. And so the designers have to manage margin, design margin, and you've got the power train folks, the body folks, the sound system people, and everything that they design and build weighs something. So they have to manage their weight and their margin . . .

"UPF is no different. As you design equipment, and you design these processes, as you can imagine it's a very iterative process . . . We're looking at how we can smartly optimize the equipment spacing relative to a hard footprint of UPF."

Even when the design is done, there'll still be challenges when the electricians, the millwrights, and the pipefitters start putting in the bulk commodities, things that aren't detailed in drawings, he said.

"It's a challenge," he concluded. "It's going to be challenge until the very end."


About this blog

    Frank MungerSenior 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. Contact Frank.

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