The mission need has been approved for a new lithium production facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex and various alternatives have been reviewed, but the cost and schedule have not yet been determined, a federal official said this month.
“Y-12 is working to ensure that its lithium production capability is maintained for current and future defense program missions,” said Steven Wyatt, public affairs manager for the National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office. “This is a challenge as this work is performed in 9204-2, a building that was constructed during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project. Ultimately, our goal is to replace 9204-2 with a modern facility, but until that has been achieved, we will continue to make improvements as needed.”
Building 9204-2 produces non-nuclear materials associated with stockpile stewardship missions, Wyatt said.
“We are not at liberty to provide any further details on this work,” he said.
Building 9204-2 is located within the Y-12 Protected Area, on the west side of the nuclear weapons plant. Maintenance issues with that building include concrete repairs, upgrades and replacements of humidity control systems, upgrades to electrical systems and fire safety systems, and improvements to process equipment, Wyatt said.
In March 2014, part of a concrete ceiling in Building 9204-2 fell into a roped-off area, according to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. In a 2009 inspection, engineers had noted signs of extensive corrosion of concrete and steel rebar caused by Kathene (aqueous lithium chloride) from a dehumidification unit on the floor above, the safety board said. No one was injured when chunks of concrete that reportedly weighed up to 200 pounds fell from the ceiling in March 2014, but the incident was cited by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, during a House subcommittee hearing that included testimony by Bruce Held, who was then acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
At that time, Flesichmann said the conditions of some of the World War II-era buildings at Y-12 are “sad,” “deplorable,” and “antiquated.” Y-12 was built during the war to enrich uranium for the world’s first atomic weapons, and there are efforts under way to modernize its facilities, including by building a new Uranium Processing Facility, or UPF. The UPF is expected to be completed by 2025 at a cost of no more than $6.5 billion. In February 2015, Y-12 announced critical infrastructure upgrades to two key production buildings at Y-12 National Security Complex. That $75.7 million Nuclear Facilities Risk Reduction project included upgrades to mechanical, electrical, ventilation, and heating/cooling systems for enriched uranium operations in Buildings 9212 and 9204-2E, which are also in Y-12’s Protected Area.
Some nuclear material work now being done in Building 9204-2 is being moved to Building 9204-2E, according to the DNFSB. In May of this year, the DNFSB said Building 9204-2 is being downgraded to a non-nuclear facility.
The future lithium production facility at Y-12 will produce non-nuclear materials. Wyatt said he can’t elaborate.
It’s not clear if there will be funding for the project in fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1. The NNSA’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 doesn’t appear to request any money for the project (see page 261 here), and the House and Senate appropriations bills also don’t appear to specifically cite funding for the lithium production facility. The NNSA budget request shows a total estimated cost of $650 million for the lithium production facility, although it’s not clear what that estimate includes and how much it might change.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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