Tag Archives: Oak Ridge

Oak Ridge as asteroid magnet

Peter Stockton and Nick Schwellenbach, POGO.org

“There are better odds that an asteroid would hit Oak Ridge than the likelihood that terrorists would have the access and time to build and detonate an IND [improvised nuclear device–pdf],” Y-12 National Security Complex spokesman Steven Wyatt told Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian in response to the concerns of an IND detonation a recently-released POGO report raises (pdf). (Y-12 is located near Oak Ridge, Tennessee; also located nearby is Oak Ridge National Laboratory.)
If what Wyatt says is true, then Oak Ridge must be a magnet for asteroids. Or security experts at the Department of Energy are totally wrong.
More likely though, his dismissal of the IND threat is PR spin more than anything else. The government’s own security strategy of access denial–which Wyatt says Y-12 does not meet–is built around the threat of INDs. Moreover, mock attacks by force-on-force adversary teams have shown that a (not-unrealistic) team of terrorists could actually penetrate Y-12 and get to its HEU and build an IND within minutes of the initiation of an attack.
INDs are ridiculously easy to create, according to several esteemed physicists. According to Princeton University physicist Frank von Hippel, “a 100-pound mass of uranium dropped on a second 100-pound mass, from a height of about 6 feet, could produce a blast of 5 to 10 kilotons.” By comparison, the blast from the Hiroshima bomb was 13 kilotons. It killed over 200,000 people.
The concern over INDs is based on the government’s findings, not just POGO’s. Wyatt can spin as much as he wants (and we have to grant him some kudos for the asteroid statement; rarely are government spokepersons so clever), but security experts inside and out of the government find the vulnerabilities at Y-12 and the threat of an IND detonation significant enough to warrant greater security as soon as possible–before the next asteroid hits Oak Ridge, ahem Earth.

DOE wants to try unprecedented pond cleanup at K-25 plant site

Oakridger.com, October 10, 2006
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Sunfish feeding
(AP) — The Department of Energy is considering an unusual “ecological enhancement” approach to cleaning up a contaminated pond at a uranium-enrichment plant.
The Energy Department is in the middle of a massive cleanup project at the K-25 plant site, preparing it for private use. But before the site can be turned over to new owners, the pond, which contains polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB, must be cleaned.
The department traditionally uses what it calls the “muck-and-truck” approach — draining, dredging and filling a pond with dirt. The ecological enhancement approach will preserve the pond and rectify the aquatic habitat.
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A school of grass carp, to be weeded out
“The strategy will significantly enhance the quality of the pond by putting in new vegetation and taking out the nonnative fish,” Oak Ridge National Laboratory environmental scientist Mark Peterson told The Knoxville News Sentinel.
Peterson has been monitoring pond conditions and PCB levels since 1989 and developed the idea to preserve the pond.
His process involves removing the fish population — estimated at 100,000 — and separating native sunfish that feed on terrestrial insects and are largely uncontaminated from the nonnative fish, such as grass carp, which consume the pond’s vegetation, and largemouth bass that feed on smaller fish.
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Largemouth Bass, too contaminated to eat
After removal and separation, scientists would either completely replace the fish population or return the native uncontaminated fish. A vegetative buffer would be placed around the pond to keep geese from using the area, said Jim Kopotic, DOE’s team leader for cleanup projects at the federal site.
As ecological changes take hold, PCB-contaminated sediments will be covered, reducing potential for human health concerns, Kopotic said.
By Energy Department Cold War nuclear sites standards, the pond is not overwhelmingly polluted. The main concern is the presence of PCBs, which are a widespread plague on the environment because of their broad usage years ago in electrical transformers.
Kopotic emphasized that the pond rehabilitation is the preferred cleanup process by DOE and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, but is only a proposal at this point. It’s also the cheapest option, with an estimated cost of $4.1 million compared to $10 million to close out the pond, according to DOE.
But not everyone is convinced ecological enhancement is the best idea.
“We don’t think this is a permanent solution,” said Susan Gawarecki, executive director of the Local Oversight Committee, which studies environmental projects for local governments.
Gawarecki said removing contaminated sediments might be the best answer, after which the pond could be re-established.
A public meeting about the pond and several other smaller ones is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 19 at the DOE Information Center in Oak Ridge. Information about the project is available for public viewing there.

Small fire in Oak Ridge uranium warehouse disclosed

Associated Press, October 10, 2006
OAK RIDGE (AP) — A small fire occurred late last month when workers inspected highly enriched uranium stored in a huge aging warehouse at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
Officials said no one was injured and there was no release of radiation in the fire.
The Washington-based watchdog group Project On Government Oversight disclosed the fire Tuesday.
The Y-12 plant makes parts for every warhead in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It also is the nation’s primary storehouse for bomb-grade uranium.
Spokesmen for the contractor at the plant said a plastic bag and masking tape in which the uranium was packed ignited, apparently when the material was exposed to air. The fire was quickly extinguished with powdered graphite.
An internal review is under way.
The building is one of five uranium warehouses within the Y-12 complex.

DOE considering new way to clean up contaminated Oak Ridge pond

WBIR.com, Knoxville, Tennessee, October 9 2006
The Department of Energy is considering an unusual way to clean up a contaminated pond at the former site of the K-25 uranium-enrichment plant in Oak Ridge.
The Energy Department is in the middle of a massive cleanup project at K-25, preparing it for private use. But before the site can be turned over to new owners, the pond, which contains polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB, must be cleaned.
The department traditionally uses what it calls the “muck-and-truck” approach — draining, dredging and filling a pond with dirt. The new approach will preserve the pond and rectify the aquatic habitat and wildlife.

Oak Ridge weapons plant consolidates uranium reserves

NEWSCHANNEL5.COM, OCTOBER 2, 2006
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Some 240 containers of highly enriched uranium have been relocated and consolidated at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge over the past year.
Government officials said today this potentially will save (M) millions of dollars to guard them.
The bomb-grade material had been stored in one of nine huge production buildings, dating to the plant’s earliest days as part of the World War II Manhattan Project.
Y-12 makes components for every nuclear warhead in the U-S arsenal. The complex also serves as the country’s primary storehouse for weapons-grade uranium. The quantity is classified, but unofficial estimates put it at 400 to 500 metric tons.
It was not disclosed how much uranium was relocated.
Y-12 employs more than 47-hundred people, covers more than 800 acres and has more than 500 buildings.