Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Frank Munger | February 26, 2016
The Y-12 nuclear weapons plant announced it had completed its dismantlement role on W69 warheads, which were once deployed on short range attack missiles.
“These weapons components have come full circle,” Geoff Beausoleil, manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office, said in a statement. He was referring to the fact that Y-12 originally built and assembled the same warhead parts that it later took apart during the dismantlement effort.
Parts for the SRAM nuclear weapon system were originally manufactured at Y-12 in the 1970s, The plant has produced parts for every nuclear weapons in the nation’s stockpile.
“With this successful dismantlement, we now can turn our focus to other systems to further modernize the stockpile,” Beausoleil said.
The W69 warhead was retired from the U.S. nuclear arsenal in 1992, and the last of the weapons were dismantled in 1999, setting the stage for later dismantlement of the various components.
The dismantlement of nuclear weapons involves multiple sites and various roles.
According to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the weapon design laboratories — Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia — do an evaluation before the dismantlement process begins in order to identify and mitigate potential hazards. The labs have “unique knowledge” gained during the original design of the weapons, the NNSA said.
After weapons are retired from the arsenal, the warheads are returned to the Pantex assembly/disassembly plant near Amarillo, Texas.
“High explosives are removed from the plutonium pit, constituting a weapon dismantlement,” the NNSA said in a statement. “Plutonium pits from dismantled weapons are placed in highly secure storage at Pantex, while uranium parts including CSAs (canned subassemblies) are moved to Y-12 and other non-nuclear components are sent to the Savannah River Site and the National Security Campus at Kansas City for final disposition.
” Y-12 continues the dismantlement process, taking apart CSAs and recovering needed materials.”
The Oak Ridge plant recycles some materials, such has highly enriched uranium, for future use in weapons refurbishment or other missions such as fuel for nuclear-power submarines.
Consolidated Nuclear Security, the government’s managing contractor at Y-12, is also the manager at Pantex.
CNS President and CEO Morgan Smith hailed the completion of the W69 project and the contractor’s “integral role.”
“The work done at Y-12 on the W69 is yet another example of the important role we play in supporting our nation and making the world a safer place,” Smith said in a prepared statement.
Y-12 began working on the W69 components in 2012.