A U.S. watchdog determined that fissures found on the outside of a building used to hold highly enriched uranium at Tennessee's Y-12 nuclear weapons complex do not constitute a major concern right now, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on Monday.
Two specialists from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board traveled to the Oak Ridge, Tenn., complex last month to witness a survey conducted by government contractor B&W Y-12 of fissures on the exterior of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
"Based on the review of the documents and observation of the B&W survey, members of the board's staff conclude that small cracks in the exterior walls of [the building] were likely caused by concrete shrinkage just after construction," the federal safety board said in response to an information request by the News-Sentinel. "It does not appear that these cracks will have any near-term impact on the structural strength of the walls."
The safety board said B&W, which runs the nuclear-weapons site, is taking suitable measures to monitor and respond to the cracks.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board is an "independent organization within the executive branch" tasked with providing advice to the White House and Energy secretary on public health and safety matters at nuclear weapon sites, according to the organization's website.
B&W's management track record in the last year has come under considerable scrutiny following the summer 2012 break-in by a group of elderly anti-nuclear protestors, who were able to get as far as the outside of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility before they were discovered and arrested.
The weapons-grade uranium stored in the building is intended for use in U.S. nuclear warheads and as a source of reactor fuel for Navy submarines. The HEU material also can be down-blended and used in atomic-energy reactors, for research or the production of medical isotopes.
A U.S. watchdog determined that fissures found on the outside of a building used to hold highly enriched uranium at Tennessee's Y-12 nuclear weapons complex should not be a major concern right now, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on Monday.