Morning Briefing - March 24, 2020
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March 24, 2020

Y-12 Reports First Case of COVID-19

By ExchangeMonitor

COVID-19 has hit the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons production complex, with one employee at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., testing positive for the respiratory disease, a spokesperson for the site’s management and operations contractor said Tuesday.

Bechtel National-led Consolidated Nuclear Security (CNS) manages both Y-12 and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. There were no confirmed cases at Pantex. The nuclear-weapon assembly and disassembly site was was still operating normally and running its three usual shifts as of Tuesday morning, according to the plant’s main switchboard and website.

At Y-12, the nation’s defense-uranium hub and sole producer of nuclear-weapon secondary stages, the situation was less clear. Several employees reported to be in close contact with the infected worker “have been asked to self-quarantine,” the CNS spokesperson said, “and affected work areas have been sanitized.”

It was not immediately clear when the infected Y-12 employee first took leave from work, or how many other employees had been in close contact with this person prior to the positive test. 

Meanwhile, DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina reported its first positive case of COVID-19 on Monday evening and said it would move to minimum mission essential operations. The site includes the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) tritium harvesting operations, and will be home to a massive plutonium pit production complex for the semiautonomous DOE agency.

An NNSA spokesperson in Washington had no immediate comment regarding plans for the agency’s operations at the Savannah River Site, which is managed under contract to the Energy Department’s Office of Environmental Management. The office handles cleanup of Cold War nuclear waste at shuttered weapons production facilities.

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