Mar 6, 2008
OAK RIDGE - New Scientist magazine is reporting that problems with a super-secret material manufactured at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant are what's holding up efforts to refurbish W76 warheads, which are deployed on Trident missiles.
According to the magazine's report by Rob Edwards, the material is code-named "Fogbank" and is extremely hazardous. It is reportedly produced at Y-12's new Purification Facility, a $50 million facility that was completed in mid-2005.
Oak Ridge officials have repeatedly refused to discuss details of the "technical issues" holding up the program to extend the life of the W76 warheads and, at one point, denied that it was a materials problem. Ted Sherry Y-12's federal manager, indicated that a decision would be made in early 2008 whether to proceed with the W76 work and, if so, how to proceed.
Earlier this year, when asked directly if the hold-up was related to materials at the Purification Facility, Y-12 spokesman Steven Wyatt said, "I simply can't say. I can't say anything more than I've already said. That is the God's truth. What we've said is the limit of what we're going to discuss on this particular issue."
Wyatt this morning would not comment on the New Scientist report. His only response was, "Work on the W76 is ongoing."
The W76 is considered a critically important part of the nuclear arsenal, not only in the United States but in the United Kingdom as well.
John Ainslie, coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, has been researching the W76 problems and the issues with "Fogbank."
In background material sent by e-mail today, Ainslie reported, "The United States Department of Energy has encountered significant problems remanufacturing a secret material for Trident warheads. The material called Fogbank is used in the interstage of the 100 kiloton W76 warhead. The interstage channels energy from the Primary to the Secondary of the thermonuclear weapons."
Y-12 specializes in so-called secondaries, the second stage of nuclear warheads.
The activities at the Purification Facility are classified, and officials will say very little about the work there.
There were several changes in plans before the facility was actually constructed in the post-Cold War period. Earlier, there had been plans to build another, more broadly equipped center known as the Special Materials Facility.
At the time of its construction, the 10,000-square-foot Purification Facility was the first new production unit at Y-12 in more than 30 years.
"This facility will produce a material needed to support the Y-12 weapon mission and will provide a purification process for the manufacture of non-nuclear, special material needed for future stockpile mission," a contractor report said at the time.
Dennis Ruddy, the Y-12 general manager at the time, said, "It reprocesses a material that we're taking out of weapons so that we can reuse it in refurbished weapons. That's probably all I can say."
When pressed for details, Ruddy said, "The material is classified. Its composition is classified. Its use in the weapon is classified, and the process itself is classified."
More information as it becomes available online and in Friday's News Sentinel.