Y-12 Blog

Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 7:06pm

A Missile Combat Crew commander from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., practices procedures at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., in preparation for the launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. Photo: U.S. Air Force photo, Michael PetersonA Missile Combat Crew commander from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., practices procedures at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., in preparation for the launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. Photo: U.S. Air Force photo, Michael Peterson

Standing 30 feet below the cold, snow-covered Montana earth, looking at a live, 60-foot-tall Minuteman III missile that he could reach out and touch (if that were allowed), Alan Armentrout found himself speechless.

“I’ve tried, but I can’t even come up with a word to describe it,” Armentrout, a machinist in Special Materials Operations, said. “You could say ‘powerful’ or ‘amazing’ or something, but none of those are strong enough.”

Armentrout and five other Y-12 Production employees — Dwayne Beaty, Aaron Burlingame, Marty Fritts, Jim Hackworth and Carl Hill — spent a week last month at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Montana, witnessing firsthand the active missiles whose nuclear payloads begin as materials and shapes in Y-12’s production facilities.

The group climbed down into a Minuteman III missile silo; toured the associated launch capsule where, behind 10-ton blast doors, Air Force operators sit strapped into chairs at their workstations; and witnessed a warhead changeout from both the silo and the payload transporter situated above the silo’s opening.

“You’re standing in that silo, looking up at the tip of that missile near the surface and just thinking about what it can do,” said Burlingame, a 9212 supervisor. “It was an eye opener.”

Throughout their time in — and under — Montana, the men couldn’t help but think of Y-12, nearly 2,000 miles away, and its role in the massive display of force in front of them.

“At Y-12, we get entangled in schedules and the minutiae of running a shop daily,” noted Hackworth, Special Materials Operations production manager. “But all the work we do has converged to this one point. These nuclear weapons are there, and they need to be able to go off at any point. All the work we’re doing really counts.”

On the first day back at Y-12, Fritts, a supervisor at the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, took that message to his crew. “I told them that they do have a bigger purpose,” he said. “We might think that moving a can here or there seems tedious, but it’s the beginning of this whole process. I’ve seen that end product now, and it wouldn’t get done without us.”

Armentrout has already noticed that perspective affecting the way he approaches his work. “I think I pay attention more to all the little details that protect what we’re doing,” he said. “I appreciate even more what we do and feel an immense amount of pride.”

As a bonus, the group was able to sit in on an intelligence briefing. For most, it was their first time hearing a detailed assessment of foreign relations and threats. “The world is a dangerous place,” Burlingame said. “There’s a real threat out there and a real need for these weapons.”

That need, Fritts thinks, is ultimately about peace. “These things are there to guarantee peace,” Fritts said. “We certainly hope they’re never used, and so does everyone else — that’s why they are so absolutely essential to our defense.”

For Burlingame, the trip is still largely indescribable. “It was something visceral,” he said of his experience. “We play a major role in national security. That’s clear to me now, and those words have taken on a whole different meaning.”

Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 7:02pm

UPF employees collected donations to determine who would take the Polar Plunge, a leap into the University of Tennessee’s outdoor swimming pool.UPF employees collected donations to determine who would take the Polar Plunge, a leap into the University of Tennessee’s outdoor swimming pool.

Managers from the Uranium Processing Facility raised nearly $9,000 for Special Olympics Tennessee by leaping into ice cold water on Feb. 27 as part of the Polar Plunge, an annual fundraising effort.

UPF was the top fundraising team in Knoxville, contributing 45 percent of the total amount raised in the city, and four UPF managers — Aaron Love, Tony Giordano, Matt Nuckols and Jim Sowers — were the top individual fundraisers. Other UPF participants were Bob Bentley, Mark Braccia, Joe Brown, Jesse Jones, Mike Pratt and Bryan Roberts.

Nominees collect donations to determine who will take the Polar Plunge, a leap into the University of Tennessee’s outdoor swimming pool. At UPF, it was a hotly contested race until the polls closed on Feb. 25. Ultimately, Deputy Engineering Manager Aaron Love edged out Deputy Project Manager Tony Giordano for the top spot by a mere two votes, raising $1,857.

“Thanks to good-natured competition and the generosity of UPF personnel, we led the city in fundraising for this great cause,” said NextGen president Amit Patel.

NextGen is an employee resource group focused on supporting the orientation, development, retention and empowerment of employees as they begin and build their careers.

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 3:57pm

Students from Farragut High School work on their entry for the FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) robotics competition. Students from Farragut High School work on their entry for the FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) robotics competition.

Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC plays an active role in strengthening the quality of FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) robotics competitions for individual high school–aged teams in Tennessee and Texas that compete head to head on a special playing field with robots they have designed, built and programmed. FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire students’ interest and participation in science and technology.

CNS sponsors the Smoky Mountain Regional competition as well as individual teams at: Robertsville Middle; L & N STEM; and Austin East, Bearden, Bushland, Caprock, Farragut, Hardin Valley, Oak Ridge, Roane and Webb high schools.

In addition to the company’s support, CNS engineers work as volunteer mentors on local teams to educate and support tomorrow’s scientists, engineers and mathematicians. “This is exactly the type of activity CNS wants to support,” said Keith Kitzke, a CNS engineer. “This is one of the best activities I have seen for developing team-building and problem-solving skills in high school students.”

On January 8 inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen launched the 2016 season with the release of the FIRSTSTRONGHOLD competition. The game changes yearly, keeping the excitement fresh and giving each team a more level playing field. More than 75,000 high-school students representing more than 3,100 teams at 114 venues around the globe joined the FIRST Robotics 2016 Kickoff via live broadcast hosted by Comcast NBCUniversal. This season’s FIRST competition involves alliances (with other schools) of robots on a quest to breach their opponents’ fortifications, weaken towers and capture the opposing tower. “This competition will test the effectiveness of each robot, the power of collaboration and the determination of the students,” said Jane Skinner, Farragut High School coach. “This program is important to our students and impacts each of them in valuable ways.”

Marvin J., a student on the team, validated Skinner’s statement. He said, “For me, FIRST has helped improve my knowledge all around. It has helped me better understand the influence of technology and engineering in everyday life.” He also noted that participating in the competition expanded his knowledge regarding everyday tools and the importance of teamwork, which enhanced his collaborative skills.

FIRST robotics teams are in phase one, which is the six-week design and build phase of their team robot. Phase two of the robotics season involves seven weeks of competition in districts or regions. The Smoky Mountain Regional competition will take place at Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena March 30–April 2, 2016. The championships will take place in April.

For more information about the competition visit TNFIRST or firstinspires.org.

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 2:55pm

CNS offers groups to help early career professionals.CNS offers groups to help early career professionals.

Whether you’re starting your first career or establishing a new one, transitioning into the nuclear industry from college, the military or another profession or organization can be an exciting and challenging experience. Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC has three programs that offer professional development and networking opportunities to help those entering this unique field to adapt and grow successfully.

The Early Career Group at Y-12, NextGen at the Uranium Processing Facility project, and Pantex Outreach and Leadership Organization, called POLO, all focus on career development, networking, retention, community service, team building and empowerment. The groups target employees beginning and building their careers and rely on experienced employees to fill leadership and mentoring roles.

“The advantages of these programs are tremendous. Participants benefit from career development activities, professional and social networks, leadership skills development and community outreach,” said Renee McGhee, director of Diversity and Talent Management. “For CNS, these groups are a way to strengthen teamwork and communication, enhance employee engagement, increase workforce retention and identify new talent.”

Early Career Group

Formed in 2010 as Connect Y-12, the Early Career Group launched a revamped program this year based on the success of Connect Y-12. About 50 people attended the brown bag information session in the spring, and interest in the program remains high. Guest speaker events with CNS senior leaders and after-hours networking events with business leaders and peers from UPF, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Young Professionals of Oak Ridge are among the most attended. The events are planned and managed by a six-member leadership team.

Group member Jason McCall said, “The Early Career Program is a microcosm of Y-12; its members represent numerous organizations across the site. New hires often benefit from having greater access to people who they may not meet otherwise, and it’s a great forum for them to share their thoughts and ideas. People in the program tend to really enjoy the activities and each other.”


The UPF project launched NextGen in April and currently has 118 members from a variety of disciplines. The chapter is managed by a 13-member board with Amit Patel serving as president. The group hosts networking events with personnel from all levels of the UPF project. At one event, UPF project director Brian Reilly shared insights from his career. Another event organized by the NextGen board is the quarterly tour of the UPF construction site. Ten members visit various locations to see first-hand progress on the project.

Like the Early Career Group, NextGen members regularly participate in after-hours networking events. “These events are geared to get people out of the office and into a neutral, friendly environment where they can talk off-line,” said Tim Barkley, NextGen execution co-chair. “People who don’t typically interact on a daily basis get to meet each other.” In May, members also participated in the Oak Ridge Dragon Boat Festival, a fundraiser for a local nonprofit. In September, they hosted a picnic for all UPF employees, and in December, they’re wrapped up the year with a Toys for Tots event.


The Pantex Outreach and Leadership Organization was created in August 2014 specifically for science, technology, engineering and math employees. Managed by a 14-member committee, POLO is based on the College Pre-Hire Program and has about 60 members. Monthly meetings include a segment called “My piece of the mission” in which guest speakers tell about their work at the plant. Mission Engineering managers Joe Papp and Dennis Viera have presented at the meetings, as have POLO committee members. Y-12’s Tucker Fritz recently spoke about Y-12.

Networking for POLO members includes social activities, such as bowling, and philanthropic activities, such as the Texas Ramp Project, a program in which volunteers build ramps for the elderly and disabled. POLO committee member Chris Whitmer said, “We’ve had great opportunities and hope to continue to grow and be part of recruiting and retention.”

NextGen members participate in the Oak Ridge Dragon Boat Festival.NextGen members participate in the Oak Ridge Dragon Boat Festival.

Members of the Pantex Outreach and Leadership Organization build a handicap accessible ramp for a homeowner as part of the Texas Ramp Project.Members of the Pantex Outreach and Leadership Organization build a handicap accessible ramp for a homeowner as part of the Texas Ramp Project.

POLO members volunteer at the Wildcat Bluff Nature Center.POLO members volunteer at the Wildcat Bluff Nature Center.

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 2:05pm

UT students and Y‑12 nuclear security subject matter experts conduct a battle board challenge in Oak Ridge.UT students and Y‑12 nuclear security subject matter experts conduct a battle board challenge in Oak Ridge.

It’s like a semester‑long chess game with the final moves played live at Y-12 National Security Complex. Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC nuclear security training experts and University of Tennessee graduate students strategize over a 3‑dimensional battle board during the culmination of an intense college course — a simulated, practical, force‑on‑force, military‑type exercise in which the victors control the virtual cached enriched uranium.

As part of the CNS and UT partnership, Y‑12 experts and UT students work together throughout the semester and then lay it all out on the table in a fierce, calculated half‑day challenge. Dr. Howard Hall, Governor’s Chair Professor at UT, teaches the Nuclear Security Science and Analysis course, working closely with KJ Maddux and others at Y‑12, to offer well rounded training for our nation’s next generation of nuclear security decision makers. “I don’t know of another program like this outside Tennessee,” said Hall. “We have a unique opportunity to work with nuclear security experts as part of the Institute for Nuclear Security, and we conduct our final exercise inside the perimeter of a nuclear facility. This battle board event is definitely the highlight of the semester. Through this training, we’re making a significant impact on the future workforce.”

The INS was founded to increase cooperation between government and academia to solve crucial problems in global nuclear security. As a top‑tier graduate program in nuclear engineering, UT attracts students from around the world. In addition to CNS and UT, INS members include the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Oak Ridge Associated Universities. “Nuclear security carries tremendous domestic and international importance,” said Maddux, senior program manager for Global Security Analysis & Training at Y‑12. “It’s critical for institutions in academia, industry and government to partner. The INS goal is to create opportunities for its members to interact with one another to attract and educate the next generation of nuclear security experts.”

Y‑12 and UT have completed seven battle board exercises, each with its own flavor. The fall 2015 class of 32 students, which included active‑duty military personnel pursuing advanced degrees, divided into teams early in the semester. The red team played the adversaries (bad guys) and the blue team acted as the protective force (good guys). They held frequent, separate strategy meetings to build their attack/defense of a mock nuclear facility.

The red team’s goal was to infiltrate a mock facility; the blue team was well prepared and ready for an attack, with multi‑tiered tactics in place to defend the facility and the stored nuclear material. The teams moved back and forth, deliberating in separate rooms between turns, taking their best guess at the other team’s next play on the board. This year, the blue team reigned, protecting the nuclear material and leaving the red team with just one man standing.

“Y‑12 is a gem with about 15 subject matter experts available to help the UT students understand and experience physical security, vulnerability analysis, performance testing, safeguards and security, and nuclear materials control and accountability,” said Maddux. He has 30 years of broad experience in the nuclear security field and works closely with Hall to ensure the students receive a healthy balance of classroom and hands‑on training.

Hall, world renowned in the intervention of nuclear terrorism, brings a wealth of field experience to the classroom. Before joining the UT’s nuclear engineering staff in 2009, he worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and supported the Department of Homeland Security. “We’re educating grad students — from nuclear engineers to writers — about nuclear weapons, material security and crimes. We truly value our unique partnership with CNS,” he added.

Throughout the exercise at Y‑12, senior managers observed the battle board challenge and addressed the students to offer sound advice and words of encouragement. “The world is a dangerous place. Now, more than ever, we need the next generation to step forward and face the challenges of securing nuclear materials,” Bill Tindal, Y‑12 site manager, said. “I applaud you for choosing this field of study. Our world will be counting on you.”

At the semester’s end, UT’s grad students took away their final grade and unmatched national security experience, leaving the virtual cached enriched uranium safe and secure.

Joining forces, CNS and the University of Tennessee offer well rounded training — both on the Knoxville campus and at Y-12 — for our nation’s next generation of nuclear security decision makers. Y-12 recently hosted a tour and 3-D battle board challenge for graduate students. The exercise involved strategic moves by a team protecting a mock nuclear facility and a team attacking the facility to control the stored nuclear material.