The Pilot Plant, Building 9731, was the first building completed at Y-12 during the World War II Manhattan Project. The building housed magnets for the Alpha and Beta Calutrons used to produce enriched uranium for the first atomic weapon, which helped end World War II.
The facility was a scaled-up version of laboratory-sized test Calutrons, the technology developed to derive the highly enriched uranium for the atomic weapon Little Boy. It was used to determine what improvements would be applied to the production Calutrons simultaneously being built at Y-12. Ultimately, Y-12 had 1,152 alpha and beta Calutrons producing the weapon fuel during the World War II Manhattan Project.
The Alpha Calutron magnets are still standing there today—the only ones in the world. After being a key component to the Manhattan Project’s success, the same equipment was used to find peaceful uses for it.
Dr. Chris Keim experimented in 9731 with separating materials other than uranium, which ultimately helped lead to the creation of medical isotopes—a big part of medical technology today.
The Calutron magnets in Bldg. 9731 have been designated as Manhattan Project Signature Artifacts by the Department of Energy’s Federal Preservation Officer in the DOE Office of History and Heritage Resources. The building holds Historical Landmark status on the National Register of Historic Places.
NASA recently selected Robertsville Middle School’s cube satellite design as one of 11 small research satellites to fly aboard a future space mission. The Robertsville satellite mission was born out of the 2016 Gatlinburg fire and will be designed to monitor forest regrowth, with a base station at the school to communicate with the satellite.
Through the school’s NASA Project-Based Learning course, students worked with NASA engineers, teachers, and community mentors to develop a conceptual design and to 3-D print a mock-up cube satellite frame. One of those mentors is Y-12’s Eric Sampsel, whose daughter Elana is an eighth grader at the Oak Ridge school.
Sampsel helped draft the proposal and worked with the students to take a systems engineering approach to the project. “We talked about how projects are structured, how important communication is between teams, and how to document and track the requirements that they design to,” said Sampsel, a Y-12 program manager.
“It was fun watching the kids interact with engineers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and have technical conversations with the experts who design satellites for a living,” he said.
For the next phase of the project, students will finalize, build, and test a working model of their design. CNS contributed financial support for the project.
The Uranium Processing Facility project was the top fundraiser in Tennessee for the Polar Plunge for the second year in a row, raising a whopping $22,458 for Special Olympics Tennessee and giving the local organization a much-needed boost.
“It makes a huge difference to us,” said Gina Legg, volunteer co-director of Special Olympics of Greater Knoxville for more than 12 years. “Up until last year, we struggled to stay above water. Last year we were able to get through the entire year and not hold our breath from month to month.”
UPF was the top fundraiser in the state last year for the Polar Plunge, raising $14,230. The Project exceeded that total by more than $8,000 this year.
“We appreciate your help so much,” Legg said. “It’s been such a blessing to not worry about having enough funding.”
About half of the donations raised from the Polar Plunge supports the local organization, Legg said, and the other half supports statewide activities. Locally, the funds pay for things like sports venues, equipment, transportation, lodging, and medals for the athletes.
The local chapter serves more than 1,500 athletes, providing them with year-round training and competition in 18 different sports. Special Olympics is funded solely by donations, and the organization’s bylaws prohibit charging athletes for any portion of their Special Olympics experience.
In addition to being the top overall fundraiser, UPF had the top four individual fundraisers in the state: Cindy Ford, Ian Finnerty, Michael Martinez and Mitch Rose. Other UPF fundraisers were Matt Nuckols, Jon Engle, Dick Miller and Glenn Clemons.
“We have a lot of fun with the Polar Plunge,” said Jamie Lesko, the president of NextGen, which sponsored the fundraiser at UPF, “but going to the event and meeting the athletes and the people involved with the organization gives you a better appreciation for the activities our donations support.”
Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC employees’ opinions matter. As part of the effort to meet the Pantex and Y 12 mission delivery, the sites are incorporating a tiered approach to problem-solving. This approach provides a feedback forum for all levels of employees while empowering them to have a say in decision making.
Having ownership of issues and reporting good news is important for employees. The Y-12 lead, Michael Mattmann said, “All employees should come to work every day and feel like a valued part of their team, and we want to empower them to make decisions that improve productivity and deliverables.” This idea isn’t something new; it’s part of performance excellence and continuous improvement, giving employees a voice.
Dale Stapp, the Pantex lead working to define this process, said, “The process provides a structured approach where we communicate successes and issues that are impacting operations or mission deliverables every day. It allows all levels of employees to take ownership of issues and report good things.”
Stapp said the process is providing accountability and ownership for issues while fostering teamwork. “When there are issues that need support organizations, we see a new level of teamwork because groups understand they need the experts to help complete certain tasks,” he said. “Communication is key, and we know sometimes the message gets misused or isn’t very clear. We’ve seen improvement in the communication flow by using this tiered process.”
Each tier has opportunities to work on the issue until it is resolved or escalated it to the next tier. Mattmann noted that the concept is used by most major manufacturing companies to build engagement and resolve issues.
Pantex Deputy Site Manager Corey Strickland said, “The metrics are proving that a majority of the issues we face CAN be handled at the lower levels. We are currently handling about 85 percent of the issues we track at the first line supervisor level. People should feel enabled and empowered to do their jobs!”
What’s next? The process will continue and grow into other organizations. Senior Director of Y 12 Production Operations Reed Mullins said, “In the end, every employee should be connected to a short, routine meeting that addresses the issues and successes of the day.”
Have you ever struggled to keep up with routine maintenance at home? Well, imagine trying to keep up with maintenance in facilities built more than 70 years ago.
To ensure appropriate safety protection against fire, the 50-year sprinkler head replacement crew works diligently against a multi-year schedule with 8,400 sprinklers scheduled for replacement by 2020.
The National Fire Prevention Association requires that sprinkler heads be tested or replaced after five decades.
As of February 1, the crew has replaced more than 870 sprinkler heads this fiscal year and has two areas remaining for replacement of approximately 1,100 sprinkler heads. And, speaking of heads, the crew has to protect their heads with special bump caps instead of hard hats because of the close quarters.
These automatic sprinkler systems provide critical safety protection against fire and are credited within the nuclear facility safety basis of the buildings. The replacement of the sprinkler heads ensures these systems are code compliant for another 50 years.