Oak Ridge’s Skilled Labor Advances Important Upgrade Project

Source: EM Update | Vol. 13, Issue 26; Contributor: Shannon Potter | July 6, 2021

A North America’s Building Trades Unions employee helps fabricate piping for upgrades to the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

EM crews were recently at work upgrading the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) when they encountered an unexpected challenge: they couldn’t obtain critical vendor services and parts needed for the project.

Such issues arise in cleanup projects, and they require innovation and creative thinking to ensure the work is completed.

In the case at Oak Ridge, an expert team of craftspeople joined together to reactivate a fabrication facility no longer in use at the East Tennessee Technology Park, where EM completed demolition and major cleanup in 2020.

“With no path forward on the commercial front, UCOR utilized its in-house crew, added skilled labor partners, and refurbished an existing facility where they could fabricate systems for the upgrade,” ORNL Portfolio Project Director Nathan Felosi said. “This approach is allowing us to continue making progress on the project.”

A 1960s-era reactor, MSRE is among several nuclear facilities at ORNL that EM has been upgrading to extend their lives. EM cleanup contractor UCOR has been leading these efforts to reduce hazards, risks, and costs associated with the former reactor.

Crews installing a continuous purge system — designed to mitigate hazard gas that the shuttered reactor still generates — could not acquire fabrication services, prompting delays on the MSRE project.

UCOR hired additional skilled workers from the North America’s Building Trades Unions with special certifications required to assist with piping production in the repurposed facility, which includes a controlled access storage area for the parts to complete the needed fabrications.

By developing an innovative approach, the project team successfully overcame the challenge of obtaining materials and vendors while also using a skilled workforce already available through its partnership with the union.

“This creative approach has put us in a position where the work can be completed in-house with the UCOR workforce and resources already in place,” Nick Lavorato, UCOR project manager, said. “Despite the unavailability of a third-party contractor, the UCOR team of electricians, carpenters, iron workers, information technology, pipefitters, and management made sure the job moved forward.”

The fabrication facility will also support another major ORNL upgrade project later this year.