The first vertical wall for the Main Process Building at the Uranium Processing Facility has been placed. Because this wall is part of a nuclear facility, the 196 cubic yards of concrete needed for this placement is high quality, the documentation is more thorough, and there are more rigorous evaluations.
“It’s great to see MPB go vertical,” said MPB Area Manager Matt Nuckols. “The team has worked tirelessly to transition from base and topping slabs to the rebar and formwork intensive walls. It’s exciting to see the building take shape.”
To build the 27-foot-tall wall, the outside rebar curtain layer was joined by an inside layer. Formwork was placed outside the curtains and then the concrete placed. The concrete was left to cure, or harden, for five days before the forms were removed.
Ironworkers, carpenters, and cement finishers will continue this process for the remaining 27 vertical wall sections for the MPB first floor, starting near the corners and building west.
The Uranium Processing Facility Project team achieved a key milestone by completing the base slabs for the three main buildings: the Mechanical Electrical Building, the Main Process Building, and most recently, the Salvage and Accountability Building. A total of 37,000 cubic yards of concrete was required for the structural base slabs. That’s enough concrete to cover a football field nearly 24 feet deep, or as tall as a two-story building.
“Achieving this milestone was the result of a lot of hard work from everyone on the team,” said SAB Deputy Area Lead Randy Holman. “They were focused on performing safely, doing it right the first time, and achieving the project milestones. With the completion of the base slabs, the team has positioned itself for future success.”
Work at the SAB continues with installation of the topping slabs underway and structural steel erection beginning in May.
The MPB base slab was completed in February, and work continues with placement of rebar curtains.
The MEB base slab was completed in July 2018. MEB is forecast to be “in the dry” in May.
Like many workers today, Mike Sand was asked to do more with less. In his 15 years as a chemist at the Y-12 National Security Complex, he saw the classical chemistry lab staff shrink by more than half, his workload grow, and aging instrumentation increasingly break down. He knew there had to be a better way. That’s when opportunity knocked.
In 2016, Sand joined more than a dozen other Y-12 employees in pursuing a University of Tennessee master’s degree in industrial engineering with a concentration in systems.
“I wanted to improve how things functioned in the lab,” Sand said. “This program was an opportunity to think critically, problem-solve, consider work flow, and learn how to optimize tasks, time and processes. I jumped at the opportunity.”
The two-year program centers on teaching the big-picture approach to a system and how to integrate customer requirements and all the technical details from start to finish. Jointly sponsored by UT and Consolidated Nuclear Security, the contractor that operates Y-12 in Tennessee and Pantex in Texas for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the courses bolster systems engineering practices and practitioners at both federal sites.
“At CNS, we’re focusing on four fundamental uses of systems engineering: in weapons, infrastructure upgrades, wholly new systems, and technology transition,” said Y-12’s Mark Cook, senior director of Systems Engineering & Architecture. “Our approach to all four is the same. We consider not only the subject system but also all the interconnected systems, dependencies and everyone who has to work with it throughout the life cycle.”
The UT/CNS program also serves to further develop employee skills to better match organization needs. “The underlying principle of this program is transferrable learning,” said Dr. Rupy Sawhney, executive director of UT’s Center for Advanced Systems Research and Education.
UT and CNS customized the master’s program to ensure maximum benefit to Y-12, Pantex and students alike. UT professors and Y-12 personnel teach courses in Oak Ridge and Amarillo, and the program has invested in audiovisual equipment for distance learning. UT teaching assistants help students after classes and even on weekends. Students design their capstone projects around a Y-12 or Pantex project that correlates to an NNSA mission need.
“This has never been about teaching a course,” Sawhney said. “It’s about building up the workforce. Our partnership with CNS through this program is preparing the workforce to meet NNSA mission needs today and the challenges of tomorrow.”
Cook agrees. “The program is proving successful in helping CNS meet our needs with its customization, focus and support from the university,” he said. “It seems like a natural fit to see if this model can help with workforce development for others in the Nuclear Security Enterprise.”
To achieve his master’s, Sand attended classes once a week on his own time while continuing to work at Y-12. In addition to completing 33 credit hours, he performed a capstone project aimed at increasing the chemistry lab’s functionality, reliability, turnaround times and productivity.
“In the classical chemistry lab, I acted as a catalyst for change,” Sand said. “Through the coursework, I started a conversation on improving methodology, proving-in new technology and pursuing experimental work.”
Since earning his master’s, he’s transitioned to a new job in Cook’s Systems Engineering group. “Getting the degree pushed me outside my comfort zone but allowed me to grow both professionally and personally,” he said. “After putting in so much effort, it was worth it for my two little girls to watch me walk across that stage in my cap and gown.
“I want them to understand the importance of education, having a thirst for knowledge and continuous learning, and the benefits of pushing yourself beyond complacency,” he said.
Since 2011, more than 50 Y-12 and Pantex employees have participated in the UT systems engineering graduate program.
Y-12’s long-standing expertise with isotopes is supporting an effort to establish a reliable supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) from low-enriched uranium. Mo-99 is a key isotope in the completion of approximately 40,000 medical procedures in the United States each day. Until recently, the isotope was supplied solely by foreign vendors, some of whom use highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the production process.
As part of its mission to minimize the use of HEU, NNSA’s Office of Material Management and Minimization was tasked to lead the Mo-99 Program. It is coordinating the use of technical expertise from Y-12 National Security Complex and the National Labs, on a non proprietary basis, to existing and potential Mo 99 producers who seek assistance to convert their Mo 99 production processes to use low enriched uranium or to develop processes that don’t use uranium at all.
The decay product of Mo 99, technetium-99m, is used to diagnose heart disease and cancer, to study organ structure and function, and to perform other important medical applications. For example, patients undergoing a common procedure — the cardiac “stress test” — likely have benefited from technetium-99m.
NNSA is working with commercial partners to accelerate the establishment of a reliable supply of Mo-99 made in the United States, produced without HEU through cooperative agreements between NNSA and U.S. commercial partners. In February, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that four companies had been selected to begin negotiations for potential new cost-sharing agreements.
“Y-12 does not provide exclusive assistance to any one company; rather, we work with non-disclosure agreements and contracts to provide expertise and assistance to multiple companies,” said Y-12’s Hollie Longmire of Global Security and Strategic Partnerships. “Y-12 provides technical expertise in uranium processing, develops prototype targets, and optimizes the process.”
At an age when many teenagers are into hot rods, high school senior Aaron would rather “burn rods.” So would Travis Scott, the Y-12 National Security Complex’s welder chief steward. The pair recently met up at Anderson County Career and Technical Center for some shop talk.
“I like the fulfillment of working with my hands, taking welding rods and making something of use. I like the tradition of the craft,” said Aaron, a student in the welding program at ACCTC whose stepfather is a contract welder and whose great-grandfather was a welder who helped construct Norris Dam.
Scott encouraged Aaron to pursue the family profession, as demand for skilled craft and trades is growing across the country and at Y-12.
As part of the site’s workforce development outreach, Scott and other Y-12 members of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council recently visited ACCTC and Midway High School in Roane County to talk with students interested in a craft and technical education.
The union leaders described their jobs and the training required and noted that college isn’t the only pathway to success. Scott, a Midway High School graduate, also shared a career lesson he learned from the school of hard knocks.
“In high school, I didn’t apply myself because I didn’t intend to go to college,” Scott said. “Senior year, I missed 17 days of school playing hooky, hunting and fishing. After high school, I applied to a welding training program. The interviewer looked at my transcripts and said, ‘Son, you’ve missed 17 days of school. You’re applying to a school right now. Why should I accept you?’”
That experience, Scott said, served as a wake-up call. He said that, at the time, he didn’t realize how his seemingly inconsequential decision to skip school would affect future work opportunities. It’s one of the messages he and other Y-12 ATLC members wanted to impart to students.
Other messages included the necessity of living drug-free, the importance of math and science in crafts and trades, having a well-thought-out career plan, participating in training and certification programs offered by the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and area community colleges, and seeking out mentors and apprenticeship opportunities at Y-12 and local unions.
Y-12’s Mike Thompson, ATLC president and another Midway graduate, urged students to consider paid apprenticeships and noted the payoffs of investing in a craft and technical education. “Apprenticeships offered by Y-12 and local unions allow you to work during the day and attend classes at night,” he said. “Many complete apprenticeships debt-free with money in their pocket.
“Careers in the crafts and trades provide the ability to sustain a rewarding career,” Thompson said. “They provide the capability to make good wages, have good benefits, and raise a family.”
Several Y-12 craftspersons pointed out that there will be heavy competition for the craft and trades jobs opening up at the site over the next few years. They noted that having training, certifications, and experience could make the difference in obtaining one of these positions.
“Skilled craft is in high demand, so you’ve got to get in the game,” said Tim Milligan, Y-12 air conditioning and refrigeration chief steward. “Y-12 takes the best of the best, and a lot of people want these well-paying jobs.”
After the ATLC talk at ACCTC, Aaron reinforced his desire to “make something of myself” and continue his technical education after graduation this spring. “Hopefully, one day I’ll make a good welder,” he said.
Through a partnership between Y-12 and the ATLC, 97 Y-12 employees have graduated from the site’s apprenticeship program since the program was reinstituted in 2008. The apprentices completed their schooling either through local unions or, in the case of the machinist apprentices, through Pellissippi State Community College.
More than 400 skilled craftspersons and professionals joined the Uranium Processing Facility project at Y-12 in 2018 in the first wave of construction hiring. The project will continue to hire throughout fiscal year 2019, peaking at about 2,200 craftspersons and professionals in 2020.