By Bill Tindal
What is Y-12? Even to most East Tennesseans, that answer is never quite clear. Long shrouded in secrecy, the Y-12 National Security Complex has received a variety of designations over its history.
Seventy-five years ago, Y-12’s original purpose was to serve as one of several vital components to World War II’s Manhattan Project. The enriched uranium that fueled the world’s first atomic weapon was produced there, next to the “secret city” of Oak Ridge built to house the thousands of scientists, engineers, and workers throughout the Oak Ridge reservation.
Throughout the Cold War, Y-12 supplied materials, machining, and other expertise vital to keeping the peace and avoiding global conflict, while partnering with scientists to pioneer medical isotope production and providing its world-class machining capabilities for national interests.
Today, Y-12 is a key component in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Weapons Enterprise. With a focus on more than just nuclear weapons, Y-12 has expanded its missions to include:
- Securing special nuclear materials and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world;
- Taking much of the material that it once used to create weapons and creating feedstock for the U.S. Nuclear Navy’s reactors, or blending it down into fuel for commercial reactors. In fact, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant has operated since 2005 with material provided by Y-12; and
- Taking 75 years of experience protecting nuclear materials and teaching private business, education institutions, and their local law enforcement how to protect their nuclear sources from terrorists.
The composition of the Y-12 site is changing to better accomplish its missions. Millions of square feet of obsolete buildings have been removed with a goal of reducing the active footprint at Y-12 by almost half in the next decade. In addition to Tennessee’s largest construction project—the Uranium Processing Facility—smaller, more efficient facilities are replacing the worn-out production, laboratory, and office spaces. The investments being made in Y-12 will ensure its ability to maintain national security now and in the future.
People who work at Y-12—your neighbors, friends and relatives—may not be able to tell you everything about Y-12, but the pride and honor of continuing a tradition of national security should be obvious.
As a Y-12 employee, I can say with confidence that we are proud to carry on the heritage of making the world a safer place, and our dedication to securing the nation’s future is unwavering.
Y-12 Site Manager Bill Tindal has worked at Y-12 since 1995.