Source: The Oak Ridger |Carolyn Krause/Special to The Oak Ridger | August 28, 2018
Up to 1200 cubic yards of concrete are being poured almost daily to create a “robust foundation” for the three buildings that make up the new Uranium Processing Facility.
Assisted by the tallest, free-standing tower cranes in the Western Hemisphere, construction workers are changing the landscape at the Y-12 National Security Complex. So said John Howanitz, senior vice president and project director for the UPF in a talk to the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge on Aug. 23, 2018.
The largest construction project the state of Tennessee has ever seen is on track to be completed and operational by 2025 within the congressionally approved spending cap of $6.5 billion.
“We will have the most modern, first-of-a-kind, nuclear facility in the nation,” Howanitz asserted, adding that safety and security are top priorities in the construction and operation of the Uranium Processing Facility. But, he stated, staying on schedule and on budget “will be challenging.”
The UPF has strong stakeholder support locally and in Washington, D.C. “Oak Ridge is a welcoming, supportive and understanding community,” Howanitz said, noting that there has been hardly any local resistance to the project at Y-12, which is operated by the Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS) for the National Nuclear Security Administration in the U.S. Department of Energy.
The UPF has already benefited the local and state economy, he pointed out. Some $1.5 billion in purchases will be made to obtain the materials and equipment needed for the construction and operation of the Uranium Processing Facility. Of that amount, $4.5 million has been spent so far in Oak Ridge; $64.1 million in the rest of East Tennessee; and $142.6 million in Middle and West Tennessee.
The peak years in construction will be from 2019 to 2022. Up to 2,200 people will be employed by UPF then, considerably increasing the Y-12 worker population.
From 2022 to 2025, workers will be testing equipment and readying the facility for operation.
As previously mentioned, the Uranium Processing Facility will consist of three buildings:
‒ The Main Processing Building (for high-risk nuclear materials);
‒ The Salvage and Accountability Building (for low-risk nuclear materials); and
‒ The Mechanical Electrical Building (on which shell construction began in July 2018 to provide building services such as air supply and chilled water).
The Main Processing Building (250,000 square feet) will be the most expansive and expensive of the three structures and will take the longest to construct.
So far, workers at the Uranium Processing Facility have completed nine million hours without a lost-time injury. The work has involved removing 300,000 cubic yards of soil, filling the excavated area with 132,000 cubic yards of concrete, installing and operating tower cranes, completing the Construction Support Building, and installing a concrete batch plant.
Howanitz explained that a modern facility is needed at Y-12 because Building 9212, the existing facility for recycling highly enriched uranium from old nuclear warheads for use in casting parts for modern nuclear weapons, doesn’t meet modern nuclear safety or security standards. (It was built and put into operation in 1945.) In addition, Building 9212, the heart of Y-12 that the UPF will replace, is undergoing age-related degradation, raising maintenance costs and increasing the risk to worker safety.
“The foundation of underground concrete will go down 15 to 35 feet to bedrock,” Howanitz said, noting that the “impressive and unmatched” foundation will be reinforced with rebar and structural steel supports. Even so, one group has questioned whether UPF will be earthquake proof.
All the processing operations at the new UPF will be in glove boxes, Howanitz added. In a “glove box,” a pair of gloves for an operator’s hands projects from openings in one side of a closed chamber, enabling the operator to manipulate radioactive materials with no risk of being contaminated.
In Building 9212, employees wear respirators and protective clothing and work in shifts to minimize radiation exposure.
Howanitz noted that in 2003, the U.S. government pondered shutting down Y-12. Now, the future of the complex is secure, he said, because “we will have the most modern infrastructure in the nuclear enterprise.”