Pantex Blog

CNS names Guess Director of Nuclear Safety Oversight

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2015 - 00:00

Ken Guess recently joined Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC as the director of Nuclear Safety Oversight. A 25-year submarine officer in the U.S. Nuclear Navy, Guess’ most recent position was as Power Ascension Test Director in the Operational Readiness department for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Nuclear Unit 2.

“I’m excited to be starting a second career here,” Guess said. “Organizations that have aging infrastructures like Y-12 and Pantex have challenges. My goal is to continue the focus on the mission, ensuring we’re all doing the best job we can for the security of our country.”

Bill Heineken, director of Nuclear Operations Support, said, “I enjoyed that Ken has been an end user of both Pantex and Y-12 products. While in charge of those products, he had complete confidence in their quality and efficacy.”

Guess said, “As a strategic weapons officer on a missile submarine, we were ready to execute. I never even remotely doubted that the weapons systems would work as advertised.”

Heineken said, “Ken’s role is to integrate and execute the nuclear safety role and conduct of operations at the enterprise level. In searching for someone to hold this role, we wanted to make sure we had the right person to meet this challenge.”

Guess earned his bachelor of science and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the University of Houston, respectively. He also earned technical nuclear power certifications from the Navy Nuclear Power School and Nuclear Propulsion Training Unit.

Wild Pantex – Two Schools Unite

Posted: Saturday, August 15, 2015 - 00:00

Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist

Recently, volunteers started arriving at a site where I had the challenging task of leading the deployment of tiny data-loggers onto medium-sized songbirds known as Purple Martins. The Pantex-sponsored site was one of several scattered across the range of the eastern Purple Martin in a continental-scale collaboration studying the declining species. A vehicle full of graduate students from the Department of Natural Resources Management at Texas Tech University (TTU) in Lubbock and several vehicles with graduate students from the Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the more local West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon arrived within minutes of each other and right on time.

Banding and deployment of GPS tags and geolocators on Purple Martins

Students assisting Jim Ray with banding and deployment of GPS tags and geolocators on Purple Martins at a colony north of Canyon.

At first, I was too preoccupied with going over instructions and helping the crew get into the routine of trapping, handling, processing, marking and releasing the birds to notice the interaction of the students from the two schools. My primary job of attaching the data-logger and harness onto the back of each bird also required concentration (precision placement, tying, gluing, trimming, etc.) But, as the day wore on there were downtimes as we waited for birds to be captured and in association with lunchtime. As an alumnus of TTU and an adjunct faculty/affiliate graduate faculty member of WTAMU, it was nice to hear the conversations between students from the two schools discussing what projects and species each was working on for their theses and dissertations.

Networking and fun times aside, the work we were doing that day was an important component of a much larger project and collaboration, as well as to the U. S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s contributions under Executive Order 13186, Responsibilities of Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds. The students helped make the day a success, and now more than two dozen Purple Martins will be collecting data during their trek to South America and back. For many of the students the day’s activities provided them with new experience to report on their cv/resumes and to draw from in the future. I know they kept this “older” guy on his toes and I was completely worn out by evening.

We all had a great time together and this was mentioned several times during the day. In fact, it was decided that it would be kind of neat for the two wildlife programs to get together more often! There is always next year! Guns Up and Go Buffs!

How to capture and handle Purple Martins

Jim Ray demonstrates to Texas Tech University and West Texas A&M University students how to capture and handle Purple Martins.

Wild Pantex – A Near-Perfect Outing

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 00:00

Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist

When upper level management visits your facility and wants a tour and an overview of your program, you certainly hope you are prepared and can show him or her some wildlife when you are out-and-about. Such was the case, recently, and our tour could not have gone much better.

We left my building around 8:30 a.m. and proceeded to a location where bobcats had been observed the previous day. The one minute drive resulted in the sightings of two bobcats, at least one of them a juvenile. The cats quickly ducked into cover, but, regardless it was a great start to the day.

Next, we proceeded to more outlying areas where I was able to show him areas of shortgrass prairie and playa wetlands, the plastic devices we have placed on more than 500 utility-line poles to protect birds-of-prey from electrocution, and the towers containing recording equipment that monitors bat activity as part of our wind energy research. As we drove across a pasture known as the Playa 2 Playa Management Unit, we observed a couple of pairs of burrowing owls. Pantex and collaborators have conducted a lot of work on these owls and the black-tailed prairie dogs they depend on, so I was elated that my guest was able to see them.

Next, we proceeded alongside of a shrub planting that serves as a “living visual barrier” to slow the spread of prairie dogs across our property line. I was just explaining to my guest that the two shrubs that comprise the planting – four-winged saltbush and aromatic sumac—are fantastic deer foods, when up stood a nice-looking mule deer buck and two does. Being the third of April, this was probably the latest that I had observed a mule deer with retained antlers from the previous year. Moments later, we added a pronghorn buck to our morning’s list of good finds.

Perhaps the morning’s most interesting observation was watching a falcon chase a small bird from in front of us to out of sight, far to our right. Based on its size and method of chase, I have decided it was probably a prairie falcon.

I could not have drawn up that morning any better. Well, we didn’t see a Texas horned lizard—the facility’s only year-round threatened or endangered species—which was a point of major discussion during the tour. But, we did see plenty of wildlife, which is not unusual here at Pantex. It was a very productive tour of our Wild Pantex.

Mule deer buck

This mule deer buck makes his home on the Pantex Plant.

Pantex and Y-12 piloting BUILDER as Centers of Excellence

Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 00:00

Pantex, Y-12 and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recently completed the first phase of a software program pilot, designated as BUILDER Centers of Excellence by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The three sites were chosen by NNSA in 2013 to pilot the program that helps facility managers and maintenance managers decide how best to maintain building infrastructure. The first phase was completed this spring and phase two should be completed this fall.

The BUILDER Sustainment Management System was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to aid the U.S. Army in managing its 160,000 buildings. The goal of BUILDER is to equip building managers to proactively respond to infrastructure maintenance needs and thus reduce the chance of unexpected component breakdowns and system failures. The Department of Defense adopted the BUILDER program, and it’s also being used by the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy.

NNSA plans to roll out BUILDER to all its sites where the critical nature of the national security work makes preventing facility system failures and breakdowns imperative.

“Everything in a building has an estimated life. BUILDER allows us to track when components were last replaced and know when they will need to be replaced again,” Y12 Site Master Planner Jane Nations said. “This effort will greatly improve NNSA’s ability to more accurately determine maintenance and recapitalization costs across the complex, and improve how NNSA prioritizes all of the facilities as a whole.”

Nations said CNS was chosen as a pilot because of the willingness of its team members in Program Integration and Infrastructure to test and implement new initiatives.

CNS completed the first phase of implementation, which entailed inputting data for mission critical facilities in March of this year. Phase two will be completed this fall, fully populating the system with all buildings in the inventory. Once this is completed, condition and functionality assessments will be performed and data entered. The goal by 2018 is to complete data loading on the total 345 facilities at Y12 as well as 620 at Pantex, then implementing the program to plan maintenance and repair projects.

Ultimately facility managers and maintenance mangers will use the BUILDER program to measure maintenance investment and condition index at facilities across all eight NNSA sites.

The Phase 1 and 2 process included the development of property data (e.g., year built, square footage, master equipment list and construction materials). More detailed information will be hand gathered such as system inventories and condition inspection results to complete the information for each facility record.

Pantex’s Steve Patterson, Infrastructure Facilities Services, said he and his team members are proud to work alongside their Y12 colleagues to assist NNSA with the implementation of BUILDER. He anticipates the program will allow for cleaner, leaner and more accurate data.

“With most sites facing limited resources and funding, accurate asset management information plays a critical role in property lifecycle management, maintenance budgeting, program missions and sustainment,” Patterson said. “Pantex is already seeing great potential with BUILDER.”

Ken Miller

Electrical inspector Ken Miller demonstrates how a thermal imager is used during facility condition assessments, which provide data for the BUILDER Sustainment Management System.

Day in the Life of a Pit

Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015 - 00:00

With underground testing long out of the question, the health of the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile relies in part on pit testing conducted at Pantex. At Pantex’s Special Nuclear Material Component Requalification Facility, pits — a nuclear weapon’s heart — are probed for analytical data.

Testing a pit“When we obtain a pit, it is unpackaged, cleaned, visually inspected and weighed, and a leak check is performed to ensure it’s sealed,” Special Nuclear Materials Department Manager Randall Hodges said. “That’s when it goes to either the Laser Gas Sampling System for surveillance or the integrated pumpdown and fill station for requalification.”

Akin to a blood draw, the Laser Gas Sampling System enlists a laser to drill a hole into the pit tube the diameter of a human hair to obtain a small amount of gas. The same laser welds the hole shut, and the gas sample is transported to the gas lab where a determination is made about its composition.

A second process is comparable to a blood transfusion. The integrated pumpdown and fill station’s high‑energy laser drills a hole in the pit tube, the gas is replaced, and the laser welds the hole shut. These gas samples also head to the gas lab for analysis.

Both systems support the overall Pantex mission. Requalification allows a pit to stay in the stockpile; surveillance involves obtaining information on a pit, then sharing it with the national laboratories to help certify to the President that the nuclear weapons stockpile is at an extremely high level of quality.

“Our most important work involves the surveillance and reprocessing of nuclear material for nuclear weapons,” David Cole, Weapons Operations director, said. “It has to be very high quality given the lack of underground testing. We can’t build new, so we’ve got to take components that were not designed to remain in the stockpile this long and make them last longer.”

A pit’s visit to the Special Nuclear Material Component Requalification Facility involves much more than “blood work,” and the entire process can take four to five days. Microfocus X‑ray ensures that the pit’s weld is acceptable. Then, it revisits both the weigh station and leak test station.

Additional steps include the dye penetrant station, coordinate measuring machine and Tube Evaluation Test System. The pit is then re‑marked and its condition documented at the pit imaging station. Finally, it is repackaged and sent back to the warehouse for future use in another weapon.

A second Laser Gas Sampling System, referred to as LGS2, will soon double Pantex’s operational capacity, increase reliability and provide higher quality and more consistent welds.

“The laser in LGS2 is a newer technology system that runs off laser diodes rather than flash lamps, and produces more consistent operation as it ages,” Nate Davis, former Special Nuclear Materials Technical Department manager, said. “It also allows the use of fiber transmission of the laser rather than a complicated mechanical/optical train, which alleviates maintenance time involved in aligning the optics.”

A second requalification process, to be designed in house, is expected to be installed at the end of fiscal 2016.