Uranium process still used at Y-12

Uranium process still used at Y-12

OAK RIDGE – Contrary to an earlier report, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant is not dumping a new technique for processing uranium.

In early November, a plant spokesman said Y-12 had abandoned development of “saltless direct oxide reduction,” a process that exploded during a test operation in 2003. “Programmatic requirements changed, and we no longer needed to pursue that technology,” Y-12 spokesman Bill Wilburn said in an e-mail response to questions.

This week, however, Y-12 issued a new statement that said the process had been successfully tested, was still in development and would be deployed when the Uranium Processing Facility – a proposed $1 billion manufacturing center – becomes operational sometime around 2015.

Wilburn said the earlier statement was the result of a miscommunication. “I was wrong,” he said.

The saltless direct oxide reduction project, which converts uranium to a metal form, is still the preferred technology for future use, Wilburn said.

According to the news statement: “Problems encountered early in the development were solved, and the process was redesigned and simplified. SDOR was fully proven-in this year at the scale needed for the new facility when it comes on line. In other words, the safety, efficiency, throughput, and quality of the process have been demonstrated.”

The reason work was stopped on the project earlier this year was because the development activities had been completed, “with the exception of some minor refinement of the system configuration and putting together the final technical package for the new processing facility,” the statement said.

Wilburn said there are plans to finish the work and “put the technology on the shelf” until needed.

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