Consolidated Nuclear Security has received the go-ahead to install a piece of hardware at the Y-12 National Security Complex that will one day help the National Nuclear Security Administration end uranium processing in the World War II-era Building 9212 and transfer the work to the planned Uranium Processing Facility.
In a report published Friday, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) said the Department of Energy agency authorized the contractor last month to install the first planned direct chip melt bottom load furnace in Building 9215 at the Tennessee complex. The furnace will collects chips, or excess pieces of uranium created in converting the fissionable material into shapes required for nuclear weapons and reactors.
Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS) currently processes chips created in Building 9215 by bringing them into 9212 and reshaping them into briquettes for storage elsewhere. Direct melt will replace that process, reclaiming chips left over from uranium processing by melting them in planned furnaces in Building 9215.
Until the furnaces are ready to go, CNS will continue making briquettes in Building 9212, according to the DNFSB. That process will have to cease before the National Nuclear Security Administration can retire the building and bring the Uranium Processing Facility online. The agency expects the replacement facility to be built by 2025 at a cost of no more than $6.5 billion.
Consolidated Nuclear Security planned to install the first direct chip melt bottom load furnace at Building 9215 in October, but “issues related to throughput, vendor quality assurance, and radiological contamination led to the project being paused,” according to a DNFSB report from December.
To fix the issue, according to the DNFSB, the NNSA required a tweak to the furnace design so that it would include “an integrated glovebox system and chip compaction capability.” CNS is to install the last of the melt furnaces in 2024, the final year on the final option of the company’s contract to manage Y-12 and its affiliated production site, the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.