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Y-12 Curbs Operations Over Risks to Personnel

The Y-12 National Security Complex on Thursday paused some of its sustainment operations for an uncertain period based on what the Tennessee site's operator judged to be inadequate execution of multiple risk-reduction protocols, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported (see GSN, May 17).

The facility has insufficiently observed "lock out/tag out" rules over  the past five years and possibly longer, the federal Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said in a Feb. 3 document. Such regulations govern the deactivation of systems and hazardous mechanisms in an effort to guard personnel against power-related risks and other potential harm.

The atomic watchdog board said no fewer than 14 undesirable occurrences at Y-12 in the past 26 months had received attention from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees U.S. nuclear weapons activities. The plant is run by B&W, a partnership between Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel National.

Three more such issues preceded Y-12's move to pause lock out/tag out operations, Y-12 spokeswoman Ryn Etter said. Each problem pertained to electricity seclusion and resulted in follow-up reforms, she said, noting the mishaps had hurt no individuals.

The pause primarily applies to sustainment efforts and had yet to affect any Y-12 assembly activities, according to the spokeswoman. The Oak Ridge site builds and disassembles nuclear-bomb components and holds the country's largest cache of weapon-capable uranium.

"This voluntary suspension of (lock out/tag out) activities reflects" the commitment of B&W Y-12 and its personnel to preventing accidents, Etter said. The company would slowly resume affected operations as remedial actions unfold, she said.

NNSA spokesman Steven Wyatt said the pause was "an appropriate action to take to enable the contractor to fully implement a comprehensive action plan" (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel, June 1).

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