Y-12 Blog

Posted: Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 7:50am

Members of the Region 2 Radiological Assistance Program

Members of the Region 2 Radiological Assistance Program preparing to mobilize at Super Bowl 55 in Tampa. From left, front row: Bill Riley, Steve Johnson, Jeff Barroso, and back row, Steve Cleveland, Jeff Bruner, Perry Pruitt, and Michael Murray. Team member Dale Perkins is not pictured.

When the world is watching, and you’re working security at high-profile events during a pandemic, standard safety protocols aren’t enough. For team members of the Region 2 Radiological Assistance Program (RAP), attending the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., and Super Bowl 55 in Tampa, Florida, involved total focus to the mission and enhanced COVID-19 protocols.

RAP teams are located regionally across the country and are the nation’s first-response resource in assessing an emergency and advising decision-makers on the hazards of a radiological incident. Region 2 is managed out of the Y-12 National Security Complex and is comprised of volunteer responders from Y-12, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

On Jan. 26, Region 2 RAP members were in our nation’s capital supporting security surrounding President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Y-12’s Rich Utrera and three ORNL volunteers were there conducting preventive radiological nuclear detection (PRND) support.

”With COVID-19 and heightened security concerns around the Capitol building, we stayed in the background for the most part,” said Utrera. “We did our jobs, but kept away from the public as much as possible, keeping all us safe.”

Jeff Barroso, Y-12 Emergency Services and RAP 2 operations manager, said COVID-19’s impact may have reduced the size of the crowds attending both events, but it didn’t diminish the need for security.

At the Super Bowl for instance, organizers limited attendance to approximately 24,000, well below the stadium’s capacity. The Kansas City Chiefs (the visiting team) didn’t arrive in Tampa until the day before the game. The Super Bowl Experience, an opportunity for fans to see current and past NFL players, was scaled back.

“In spite of the changes, the Super Bowl remained one of the most-watched events of the year,” said Barroso. “With that level of exposure, all security-related preparations remained at a very high level, and RAP was expected to safely execute their mission to the effort.” In total, eight Region 2 RAP members supported the PRND operations for Super Bowl.

In both cities, RAP members followed the standard pandemic safety protocols - masks, daily temperature checks, and social distancing - but enhanced elements were also added. RAP members had to test negative for COVID-19 before being allowed to make the trip. Vehicle occupancy was limited to two members per vehicle, with the passenger sitting in the back seat.

“These enhanced controls allowed RAP to minimize the team’s exposure to COVID-19, while conducting our important duties,” said Barroso.

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 2:42pm
Matthew Pickens

It was January 17, a date neither Y-12 machinist Matthew Pickens nor his family will soon forget. They had set off along Highway 321 toward Friendsville when he noticed a Jeep moving erratically in front of him. Pickens wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but whatever it was, it didn’t look good, or safe. The Jeep swerved from the road to the shoulder then swerved back into the lane and back to the shoulder again, finally coming to a stop.

“As I passed in the left lane, I looked over and noticed the driver slumped over in the seat,” said Pickens. I asked my wife, “I wonder if they need help?” He started to just drive by, but said he felt in his spirit that he should stop. So he turned around.

He parked his car and walked toward the Jeep. That’s when a woman in the passenger seat opened her door calling for help. Her husband had passed out. Matthew quickly checked and found the driver was not breathing but had a faint pulse. He and his wife got the man out of the Jeep, and Pickens immediately started CPR. He continued until the police and EMTs arrived.

The following Sunday as Pickens walked into church, his phone rang. It was an unknown number, which he normally ignores, but something told him to answer this call. He’s glad he did. On the other end of the line was the man he had helped. The man was still in the hospital but recovering.

“He told me the hospital said my quick response saved his life,” smiled Pickens. “It was amazing hearing his voice since the week before we couldn’t even hear his breath.” Pickens’ quick actions and knowledge of CPR, training he and his wife received at church many years ago, made the difference. He said after all these years, it was good to know he still knew what to do. Despite that, he plans to get a refresher. And he hopes others will too, as you never know when it might be needed.

“I hope from this story people will always look to help others,” Pickens said.

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2021 - 2:35pm

Kadee Klimowicz

Meet Kadee Klimowicz, a current Y-12er waiting on her training in the Space Operations field at Vandenberg Air Force Base to begin.

Kadee Klimowicz, a recent University of Tennessee graduate with a degree in civil engineering and second lieutenant in the Air Force, was selected to join the Space Operations field at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Because of COVID-19, her training is on hold, so until then, she’s working with Consolidated Nuclear Security in Global Security and Strategic Partnerships (GSSP), a program that supports both Y-12 and Pantex.

Like many of us, Klimowicz wasn’t sure how to react when the pandemic caused a wrinkle in her career plans. “I have been waiting to start that training since I graduated, but the delay threw me for a loop! I’m happy to have this opportunity until my training begins,” Klimowicz said.

She explained that her training for a space operations officer includes a 7-month course, Officer Undergraduate Space Training, where she will learn technicalities involving orbital mechanics, space surveillance, and space lift. “It’s where officers get to collaborate with civilian contractors, like SpaceX,” Klimowicz said.

“I am extremely proud to call Y-12 the starting point in my career,” she said. “As I progress in the Space Operations field, my goal is to help develop more efficient technologies that allow us to continue our exploration of the last frontier but lessen our waste, starting from Earth and into our stratosphere.”

This engineer and self proclaimed “huge space nerd” is no stranger to Y-12 as her stepdad has worked in Y-12 Emergency Services for more than 10 years, but the site “has always been fascinating, yet mysterious” she said. Klimowicz is also gaining perspective from working with GSSP director Eva Irwin.

“Eva has mentored me and opened my eyes to the amount of science exploration and global innovation that has happened and continues to happen at Y-12. I have learned about the importance of secure agreements and mechanisms that continue to make those global innovations happen, and I hope to learn more about the engineering behind the projects that continue to change the world,” she said.

Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 2:52pm

The shelter has perimeter benches that provide employees a place to sit. Rubber matting is also on the floor, providing a layer of cushion. 
The shelter has perimeter benches that provide employees a place to sit. Rubber matting is also on the floor, providing a layer of cushion. 

Did you know that some Y‑12 employees work at East Tennessee Technology Park? The Material Acquisition and Control Center, or MAC, is located at the former K‑25 site and provides a state‑of‑the‑art supply chain management option to Y‑12 and Pantex. These buildings, one with 48,000 square feet of storage space and one with 38,000 square feet, are similar to large commercial fulfillment centers.

So when 65 employees were going to work at the MAC, plus the 20+ visitors it has each day taking care of pickups and deliveries, it was necessary to have a storm‑withstanding shelter available.

Jason Smith, MAC facility manager, explained that when Y‑12 managing and operating contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security first moved to the site, the nearest ‘shelter’ was over a mile away. “If there was a severe weather event like a tornado warning, employees had to travel to the shelter in potentially dangerous weather. CNS and Uranium Processing Facility employees working at the K‑1065 MAC Complex needed a closer option,” Smith said.

Now these employees and visitors have access to a 10‑foot‑wide x 40‑foot‑long storm shelter that will hold 50 people.

The new storm shelter located at the Material Acquisition and Control Center (at East Tennessee Technology Park) is rated to withstand and EF5 tornado.

“We have a shelter rated to withstand an EF5 tornado,” Smith said. “These shelters are prefabricated from quarter‑inch cold rolled steel at a factory in Thomasville, Georgia and shipped to the installation site. A crane set the structure onto a massive steel‑reinforced concrete foundation. The shelter is then welded to steel‑embedded plates in the foundation and bolted to the foundation for added safety.”

The shelter interior has perimeter benches that provide employees a place to sit. Rubber matting is also on the floor, providing a layer of cushion. The shelter also has power and lighting provided by a self‑contained battery power center, which is kept charged by a solar panel and is always ready in case of a severe weather event.

Gina Fitzmaurice of Safety and Industrial Hygiene said, “There was a concern for the lack of a storm shelter for our employees working at MAC; this issue was identified and tracked for closure by our Labor/Management team. Each month, IGUA and ATLC union safety representatives along with management meet to discuss status of issues and also walk down potential or existing safety hazards. This new storm shelter is a success story of the teams working together.”

This shelter is a success story, but it’s not anything they want to put to use anytime soon. “It’s just good we’re now prepared,” Smith said.

Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 2:32pm

Demolition at the Biology Complex, October 2020 through February 2021
Demolition at the Biology Complex, October 2020 through February 2021

In the last few years, there has been a lot of clean‑out activity in the old Biology facilities at Y‑12. Demolition and cleanup is finishing on the largest of these 75‑year‑old buildings, which brings an end to a significant piece of Oak Ridge history.

How much do you know about Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Biology Division at Y-12? Many have heard of the Mouse House, but here are some facts you may not know.

Most of the buildings in what is known as the Biology Complex originally were constructed in 1945 as expansion capability for Y‑12’s uranium preparation operations. Before the scarce U‑235 isotopes could be separated from the abundant U‑238, the material had to be chemically processed and converted to the source material required for the calutrons, the machines created to do the separation. Being constructed late in the race to create the first atomic weapon, the buildings saw limited use and were shuttered quickly.

As early as 1947, Clinton Laboratories (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory) began occupying buildings at Y‑12. With the arrival of Alexander Hollaender in 1946 as the Biology Division’s director, the staff numbers began to grow, and they quickly outgrew their Clinton Laboratories facilities in Bethel Valley. Because there was a moratorium on space from 1946 to 1947 at the lab due to uncertainty as to whether it would remain open as a national laboratory or be closed, groups from Bethel Valley, including the Biology Division, began to populate the buildings in Bear Creek Valley. Those facilities occupied by Hollaender and his staff would become known as the Biology Complex.

Originally tasked with studying the effects of radiation on plants and animals, the Biology Division’s expertise quickly grew under Hollaender’s supervision, which lasted for 20 years. Alvin Weinberg, a nuclear physicist and administrator who directed ORNL for 18 years, described Hollaender’s vision for the Biology Division as “a new style of biological investigation; the melding of enormous, expensive mammalian experiments with basic investigations on a much smaller scale … It is this unique combination of the big and small, the mission‑oriented and the discipline‑oriented, that is Alex Hollaender’s great contribution to biomedical science. It is a contribution that has forever changed biology.” Under Weinberg’s tenure as ORNL director, the Biology Division grew to five times the size of the next largest laboratory division.

The “big science” project in Biology is the well‑known genome work of Liane and Bill Russell, who brought their pioneering work studying the effects of radiation on mice from the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. A lesser‑known but internationally significant Biology Division genetics project was Elliot “Ken” Volkin’s and Lazarus Astrachan’s discovery of messenger RNA (mRNA), using techniques developed by Waldo Cohn. Weinberg described it as research that “has never received the acclaim it deserves.”

While the University of Tennessee certainly plays a prominent role in Oak Ridge National Laboratory today, the relationship between ORNL and UT goes back for decades, especially with the Biology Division. In 1967, Hollaender helped found the University of Tennessee‑Oak Ridge Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The creation of the UT Arboretum in Oak Ridge is another example of early collaboration between the school and the members of the Biology Division.

While Hollaender fulfilled his vision of creating one of the largest, world‑class biological laboratories in the world that welcomed visiting students and scientists from around the globe, he also focused on offering educational opportunities to small schools around the South. Representatives from the Biology Division visited small colleges and universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, recruiting co‑op students with the offer of being able to use top‑notch equipment and work alongside award‑winning researchers.

Many know about the Mouse House, one of the largest mouse research facilities in the world, but many do not realize that it took a staff working in a full‑scale industrial kitchen to create the food consumed by the mice and the drosophila (fruit flies) used in Biology Division experiments. That kitchen later was revamped and provided food to Biology and Y‑12 workers until the closing of the Biology Division in 2002. Some say the canteen had one of the best burgers in Oak Ridge.