Note: This story was updated with a statement from CNS at 11:50 a.m. Nov. 19.
The U.S. Department of Energy has notified Consolidated Nuclear Security that it intends to investigate possible weaknesses in nuclear criticality controls at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
The DOE Office of Enterprise Assessments’ Office of Enforcement notified CNS, which manages and operates Y-12, of its intent to investigate on Tuesday. The Office of Enforcement intends to investigate potential noncompliances with DOE nuclear safety program requirements, according to a summary of the notice published online.
The potential nuclear criticality control weaknesses were identified at Y-12 between May 2017 and May 2018, the notice said.
Nuclear criticality occurs when nuclear fuel is capable of sustaining a fission chain reaction.
It’s not clear if the nuclear criticality concerns at issue in the Office of Enforcement investigation are related to highly enriched uranium, which is stored at Y-12 and can be used in nuclear weapons and in naval reactors.
In the Tuesday notice, the DOE Office of Enforcement said CNS reported the potential noncompliance concerns in the department’s Noncompliance Tracking System. The letter was from Kevin L. Dressman, acting director of the Office of Enforcement, to Morgan Smith, president and chief executive officer of CNS.
“Since the self-discovery and reporting of legacy issues with Y-12’s nuclear criticality controls, affected operations at Y-12 were temporarily paused and actions were taken to review and improve procedures,” CNS spokesperson Amanda Meixel Kinghorn said in a statement Monday. “Y-12 will support the investigation, which is planned for January 2019.”
The Office of Enforcement investigation will include an onsite visit and interviews with contractor personnel, and documents will be requested, DOE said in its notice.
It’s not clear what the weaknesses are, how they started and how they ended, and how long the investigation might take. Oak Ridge Today has requested more information about the notice of intent to investigate from DOE, CNS, and the National Nuclear Security Administration, the part of DOE that oversees Y-12, and we will update this story or publish a new one when more information becomes available.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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