Y‑12 and the Nuclear Security Enterprise

Posted: February 7, 2013 - 6:29pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 2 | 2013

The Y‑12 National Security Complex's manufacturing, technical and scientific experts work within NNSA's Nuclear Security Enterprise to reduce the risk of proliferation and to sustain the nuclear deterrent.

Y‑12 is one of six production facilities in the National Nuclear Security Administration's Nuclear Security Enterprise. Y‑12 works with the design laboratories, which make decisions regarding the stockpile, and with other production sites as an essential part of the nation's defense and nonproliferation strategy.

The Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, assembles components from the production sites into weapons, dismantles selected weapons and sends the appropriate components to Y‑12 for disassembly, surveillance, reprocessing, storage and development of associated technologies. The cycle continues when Y‑12 sends the processed components back to Pantex. As a whole, the Nuclear Security Enterprise provides solutions to emerging national security challenges while executing its traditional defense missions.

Y‑12's main functions

Production — Y‑12 manufactures unique nuclear weapon components for the nation's defense. Decades of precision machining experiences have led to cutting-edge technologies that range from producing metal to meeting exact tolerances.

Surveillance — Y‑12 performs surveillance (a forensic analysis) of components in the stockpile to determine characteristics of aging and to predict reliability. The design labs request tests and inspections to collect data that are used to evaluate the condition of components.

Dismantlement and Processing — Dismantlement involves separating components of retired weapons and recovering nuclear materials from them. The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, uses some of the highly enriched uranium that Y‑12 processes from dismantled weapons. This uranium serves as feedstock for fuel for naval vessels, thus reducing storage and risk. Y‑12 support for the naval program is planned for the next 40 years (see page 32).

Storage — Y‑12 provides secure management and storage of special nuclear materials as weapons are retired from the national stockpile or returned for dismantlement under strategic arms reduction treaties. This function also includes nuclear materials that are returned to Y‑12 from other Department of Energy sites, including DOE-owned material from universities and research facilities, both domestic and international.