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22 Feb, 2023 19:52

US uranium site catches fire

The incident involved a nuclear processing facility at the Y-12 site in Tennessee
US uranium site catches fire

A fire broke out at a major US uranium processing facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on Wednesday. All employees have been accounted for and there is no danger to the general public, the Department of Energy officials insisted.

The “incident” happened at Building 9212 of the Y-12 National Security Complex, according to the WVLT-TV in nearby Knoxville. Emergency crews responded to “a fire involving uranium,” the outlet reported. About 200 employees who work in the building were evacuated, as emergency crews reacted to handle the blaze.

“I think if you live nearby you’d be very concerned,” a spokesperson for Y-12 told WVLT. “The situation is under control and is contained.”

The facility’s official Twitter account spoke of “an incident” that happened around 9:15 on Wednesday morning. It was later described as “a fire in a hood” that was “contained to the production building.” There were “no reports of injury or contamination,” and there was “no off-site impact to the public as a result of the incident,” Y-12 said.

By 1pm local time the complex had returned to normal operations, but Building 9212 remained off-limits and there was no confirmation that the fire had been put out.

The National Nuclear Security Administration and the contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC are in charge of the response, Y-12 officials told the local outlet.

The US Department of Energy lists the building as a uranium processing facility. Built in 1945 for the original nuclear weapons program, it serves “as one of the primary chemical processing and enriched uranium production facilities at Y-12,” but was scheduled to be decommissioned by the end of 2025. The fire involved “a compound of uranium … in a metal form,” according to WVLT.

The Y-12 website describes the National Security Complex as “a premier manufacturing facility dedicated to making our nation and the world a safer place,” that deals with storing nuclear materials, producing fuel for the US Navy’s reactors, and performs “complementary work for other government and private-sector entities.”

Oak Ridge was built by the US government in 1942, as part of the “Manhattan Project” to build the world’s first atomic bomb. The planned community of some 75,000 residents was initially shrouded in secrecy and run by the federal government, but incorporated as a city in 1959.