Why is the construction of the Uranium Processing Facility essential? Today much of the country's enriched uranium work, vital to the nation's defense mission, takes place in a Y-12 facility that is more than 60 years old. That building, 9212, is past its useful life. Both safety and reliability are issues.
“Our current nuclear safety codes didn't even exist back when 9212 was built,” noted John Gertsen, vice president of Uranium Processing Facility Programs.
Building 9212's aging infrastructure and equipment are increasingly fragile to maintain. Just obtaining replacement parts for electrical, ventilation, fire-protection and other systems is a challenge. “It will be difficult to maintain reliable operations past 2021,” Gertsen said.
Because of such tenuous utility and safety systems, routine operation of the facility relies more and more on alternative controls, which are costly and time-consuming. And any shutdown of 9212 would halt the flow of materials to other processing operations.
“If that happened, it would mean stopping the Life Extension Program, surveillances and dismantlements at Y-12 first and then nationwide,” Gertsen said.
Building 9212, where enriched uranium has been processed since the 1940s, has miles of electrical cable, some of it almost 70 years old.
The proposed Uranium Processing Facility upgrades most Building 9212 processes to modern equipment and complies with today's nuclear safety and security standards.
The structure will be sound enough to withstand a significant earthquake; robust infrastructure systems will support up-to-date equipment; and upgraded technologies will provide reliability, efficiency and cost savings. UPF also will improve the site's security posture and significantly reduce the size of the high-security Protected Area.
Continued, safe uranium operations are essential, as Y-12's primary reason for existence remains processing and storing materials for Defense Programs. That mission includes surveillance, refurbishment, dismantlement and uranium processing work, all of which are conducted in 9212 and other decades-old buildings.
The UPF project will be one of the largest construction projects in the nation. And, as the largest post–World War II investment in Tennessee, it will create jobs and benefit the region. Once the facility is built, operations will be transitioned there in phases.
The first phase of transition to UPF will establish and start up 9212 capabilities there. “Later we plan to move other processes — those in facilities not as fragile as 9212 — into UPF,” said Gertsen. Because of the urgency, the UPF construction schedule has been accelerated.
“When UPF is up and running, Y-12 will have a facility that ensures we can continue to meet our vital Defense Programs mission through the 21st century,” Gertsen stated.
The Uranium Processing Facility will ensure that Y-12 continues to meet its vital Defense Programs and nuclear nonproliferation missions.