Oak Ridge partners: Global security and fuel development

Posted: July 18, 2012 - 10:00am | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 1 | 2012

Additive manufacturing builds metal parts, layer by layer, such as this titanium piece ORNL fabricated for Y‑12. Y‑12 is evaluating the technology for tooling and manufacturing applications. In 2011 the two DOE facilities shared 178 projects worth $12.5 million.

In the 1940s Bear Creek and Bethel valleys cradled newly constructed facilities filled with people on a common mission that ended World War II. Today, the Y‑12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory thrive in those transformed valleys and collaborate daily. In 2011 they shared 178 projects worth $12.5 million.

“With just a few miles separating our nationally renowned institutions, we have a unique opportunity for daily interactions among technical staff. Y‑12 and ORNL count on each other and capitalize on our proximity and technical expertise,” said Chris Clark, Y‑12's Strategic Program Development senior director. “Working together, we're able to solve national security challenges and create and implement innovative technologies to answer America's needs.”

ORNL taps Y‑12 for uranium processing expertise, fuel to supply its High Flux Isotope Reactor, specialized nuclear security training and design and manufacturing know-how. And ORNL is Y‑12's go-to for engineering support, new technologies in commercial areas and design input.

Chris Robinson is the Y‑12/ORNL liaison keeping the lines of communication open. “My challenges are enhancing technical exchanges and ensuring that work moves back and forth seamlessly,” said Robinson, Y‑12 Nuclear Materials Initiatives and Laboratory Liaison director. High on his 2012 radar are global security and advanced fuel development for metallic fuel and space reactor applications.

“With Y‑12 being the cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration's Nuclear Security Enterprise and ORNL as the Department of Energy's top science lab, enhancing our focus on joint opportunities in global nuclear security technology and advanced fuel cycle initiatives is a win-win for DOE's missions in nuclear energy and nonproliferation,” said Dr. Jeff Binder, ORNL's interim associate laboratory director for Nuclear Science and Engineering.

Liaisons have tackled projects answering energy efficiency and sustainability needs and evaluated small modular reactors to power all of Y‑12 and ORNL with zero carbon dioxide emissions. “During my watch as liaison, we put in place a generic Memorandum Purchase Order for Y‑12 to support urgent needs from ORNL. It includes $100,000 in funding to allow fast-turnaround support,” said Clark. “We've connected people across the valleys and had them working together in as little as 45 minutes.” Technology transfer, partnerships, licensing, material recovery missions, analytical chemistry, safety, engineering, safeguards and security, and metrology are topics that most often spark collaboration.

So what's on the horizon for future collaborations? Additive manufacturing, for one thing. ORNL has the next generation of equipment for additive manufacturing, which Y‑12 could apply to several operations. Rightfully named, this manufacturing adds layer upon layer, joining materials to make objects from 3‑D model data. It's the opposite of traditional machining, which subtracts materials. Additive manufacturing will be game changing for the manufacturing industry, especially as the technology matures and material selections expand.

“Y‑12 is looking at ways to manufacture parts using new processes, and ORNL has some of the equipment and expertise to support the process evaluations,” said Robinson. “Y‑12 is also developing myriad new technologies to support the Uranium Processing Facility. All of industry, from medical prostheses to aerospace, could benefit from the technologies being explored in Oak Ridge.”

Over the years these high-tech neighbors have racked up approximately 25 shared patents as well as R&D 100 Awards on projects from A to Z (that is, Active tamper-indicating devices to Zirconium oxide composites). “Partnerships of all kinds have driven remarkable innovations that have come out of our two valleys. We can do better things together,” said Clark.