OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – The Y-12 National Security Complex has received final approval for a $76 million project that aims to maintain decades-old equipment – some dating to World War II – until the site constructs a new facility to ensure that the nation has essential uranium processing capability long-term.
The Nuclear Facility Risk Reduction (NFRR) project includes two Y-12 production buildings – Building 9212 and Building 9204-2E – and will replace items including steam stations, cooling water distribution systems, ventilation systems, vacuum pumps, and electrical switchgear, motor control centers, transformers, and breakers.
The Department of Energy (DOE) recently gave “Critical Decision 3B – Start of Construction” approval for the project, after initial approval a year ago of design, minor construction, and some initial demolition and procurement.
“It is important that NNSA continues to make investments in converting a Cold War nuclear weapons complex into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise,” said Don Cook, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “The required maintenance of the infrastructure at Y-12 is an important endeavor to accomplish until the new facility becomes operational.”
One piece of equipment that will be replaced by the project is a 1930s motor control center that continues to provide power to critical production equipment in Building 9212.
“We’re still operating equipment that was already used when we acquired it in 1943,” said Ted Sherry, Manager of NNSA’s Y-12 Site Office. “People don’t use tools from the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s for everyday tasks at home, yet we have to operate these safely at Y-12 in order to fulfill missions essential to our national security.”
Y-12 is one of four production sites nationwide that’s responsible for maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Y-12 also provides fuel to the nuclear Navy and to research reactors worldwide. Its facilities are essential for dismantling weapons and making weapons material available for peaceful uses such as the production of medical isotopes and commercial power.
The site is designing a new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) that will consolidate operations for all those missions into a single smaller, more efficient, modern nuclear facility. UPF, currently in design, is to be finished in the early 2020s and is essential for maintaining the nation’s ability to process weapons-grade uranium.
The NFRR project will not fully refurbish Building 9212, the site’s main production facility. “It will simply help us reduce the risk of failure,” said Darrel Kohlhorst, president and general manager of B&W Y-12, which operates the site for NNSA. “It’s not possible to bring 9212 up to modern standards, but NFRR gives us a stop-gap measure that will allow us to continue safe operations until UPF comes online.”
NFRR focuses on the highest-priority, most complex work, as determined by an evaluation of risks to safety and production processes in both buildings. All equipment is expected to be installed, tested and operational by 2016.
DOE’s approval letter requested that the project team continually monitor Building 9212 operations to take advantage of potential unscheduled outages that could allow for acceleration of the construction schedule.
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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.
The Y-12 National Security Complex maintains and enhances the safety, security, effectiveness, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and provides expertise and training to respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.