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Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant

The Y-12 National Security Complex is a United States Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration facility located in Oak Ridge, Tennesseemarker, near the Oak Ridge National Laboratorymarker. Y-12 is managed and operated under contract by B&W Y-12 (formerly called BWXT Y-12), a partnership of Babcock and Wilcox (formerly called BWXT Technologies), a McDermott company, and Bechtel.


Y-12 was established during the Manhattan Project to enrich uranium using electromagnetic isotope separation. Its construction began in February 1943, under the management of Stone and Webster. Because of a wartime shortage of copper, the massive electromagnetic coils were made with 14,700 tons of coinage silver from U.S. government vaults at West Point.
Colonel James C. Marshall met with the Under Secretary of the Treasury, Daniel Bell, and requested between five and ten thousand tons of silver. Bell’s stunned reply was “Colonel, in the Treasury we do not speak of tons of silver; our unit is the Troy ounce.”  Thus the Manhattan Engineer District requested and was loaned 395 million Troy ounces of silver (13,540 tons) from the West Point Depository for the duration of the Manhattan Project. Special guards and accountants were assigned to the silver, and their responsible caretaking meant that at the end of the war, only 0.035% out of more than $300 million worth of silver was lost to the process, with the remainder was returned to the Treasury.

The Y-12 facility began operating in November 1943, separating uranium-235 from natural uranium, which is 99.3% uranium-238, by using calutrons to perform electromagnetic isotope separation. Y-12 produced some of the uranium-235 for Little Boymarker, the nuclear weapon that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. K-25marker, another facility in Oak Ridge, produced enriched uranium using gaseous diffusion. However, K-25 did not begin operating until early 1945.

Tennessee Eastman was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to manage Y-12 during the Manhattan Project. The company transferred scientists from Kingsport, Tennesseemarker to Y-12 and operated the plant from 1943 to May 1947. The Y-12 electromagnetic plant units were initially operated by scientists from Berkeley to remove bugs and achieve a reasonable operating rate. Then they were turned over to trained Tennessee Eastman operators who had only a high school education. Kenneth Nichols compared unit production data, and pointed out to Ernest Lawrence that the young “hill-billy” girl operators were outproducing his Ph.Ds. They agreed to a production race and Lawrence lost, a morale boost for the Tennessee Eastman workers and supervisors. The girls were trained like soldiers not to reason why, while “the scientists could not refrain from time-consuming investigation of the cause of even minor fluctuations of the dials” .

The Union Carbide corporation succeeded Tennessee Eastman as the operating contractor in 1947, remaining until the mid-1980s, when Union Carbide relinquished the contract for operating DOE's Oak Ridge facilities, and the Martin Marietta corporation won the contract to(later Lockheed Martin) take over the operation. BWXT Y-12 succeeded Lockheed Martin as the Y-12 operator in November 2000.

Current status

Today Y-12 manufactures nuclear weapons components, participates in stockpile stewardship research, and "is the 'Fort Knoxmarker' for highly enriched uranium", according to its Web site.

BWXT Y-12 currently employs approximately 4,500 people. About 1,500 additional personnel work onsite as employees of organizations that include UT-Battelle, Science Applications International Corporation, Bechtel Jacobs, and Wackenhut Services (an American-controlled unit of the Wackenhut Corporation), which holds the security contract for the site.

The Y-12 Plant was listed as an EPA Superfund site in the 1990s for groundwater and soil contamination. Today, the Y-12 Plant is listed on the DOE's Cleanup Criteria/Decision Document Database (or C2D2 database). Contaminates included in the CERCLA Superfund for this area are nitrate, beryllium, mercury, PCBs, TCE, and radium-226.

See also


  1. Tn Encyclopedia: Tennessee Eastman Company/Eastman Chemical Company
  2. Nichols, Kenneth D. Ibid, page 131
  4. Y-12 National Security Complex: Secure Storage
  5. Cleanup Criteria / Decision Document Database

External links

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