Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Brittany Crocker | November , 2017
As a chunk of the workforce at Y-12 National Security Complex approaches retirement, the nuclear component manufacturing facility has to ensure specialized personnel on their way out the door are replaceable.
According to Ellen Boatner, spokeswoman for Y-12 managing contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security, around 43 percent of the Y-12 population is eligible to retire with a full pension within five years. About 55 percent can retire with a full pension in the next 10 years.
Special site work requires specialized skill
The Y-12 complex is a bit of a mish-mash of aging Manhattan Project and Cold War-era infrastructure, with some modernizations.
Chemicals and other hazards that trade workers wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with in the world outside a weapons plant are common at Y-12. Pipes are made of everything from copper to black iron to glass.
Journeyman wireman Ron Price said he’s been at Y-12 for 30 years.
“Everything we work on is anywhere from 50-to-60 – sometimes even 70 – years old,” he said. “The thing about electrical equipment, it can withstand that as long as we maintain it.”
Maintaining the infrastructure can be a challenge, though, with such old pieces and parts.
Workers will sometimes go looking for a replacement part or a reference book and find out the companies that made them went out of business years ago.
“A lot of things here were custom made,” said Journeyman pipefitter James Durham. “They’re one of a kind, so you really have to use your knowledge base here to make sure the new parts work the way the old ones did.”
Y-12 restarted an apprenticeship program in 2008 to keep the pool of knowledge full.