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Workers overcooked nuclear warhead

leftA US federal spokesman confirmed that Oak Ridge workers overcooked some nuclear warhead components during a drying process to such an extent that the parts could no longer be "used as intended." The incident at the Y-12 National Security Complex was revealed in a report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The timing was about a month after the Oak Ridge plant received approval to restart production work on W76 warheads, which had been delayed for more than a year because of technical issues. However, Steven Wyatt of the National Nuclear Security Administration said he could not comment on whether the oven-dried weapon parts were associated with the plant's W76 life-extension program, which is refurbishing old warheads deployed on Trident submarine missiles.

The Safety Board's Report said the components - known as canned subassemblies - were mistakenly dried at a "much higher temperature" than intended. Asked if they were damaged by the process, Wyatt responded  "The parts were not prepared in accordance with the original application and could not be used as intended." Wyatt said the parts were deemed acceptable for an "alternate use" but said they had to be rebuilt. He would not disclose the future use or say if it was a weapons mission

A US federal spokesman confirmed that Oak Ridge workers overcooked some nuclear warhead components during a drying process to such an extent that the parts could no longer be "used as intended." The incident at the Y-12 National Security Complex was revealed in a report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The timing was about a month after the Oak Ridge plant received approval to restart production work on W76 warheads, which had been delayed for more than a year because of technical issues. However, Steven Wyatt of the National Nuclear Security Administration said he could not comment on whether the oven-dried weapon parts were associated with the plant's W76 life-extension program, which is refurbishing old warheads deployed on Trident submarine missiles.

The Safety Board's Report said the components - known as canned subassemblies - were mistakenly dried at a "much higher temperature" than intended. Asked if they were damaged by the process, Wyatt responded  "The parts were not prepared in accordance with the original application and could not be used as intended." Wyatt said the parts were deemed acceptable for an "alternate use" but said they had to be rebuilt. He would not disclose the future use or say if it was a weapons mission.

According to the weekly activity report from the DNFSB staff in Oak Ridge, workers in Y-12's Assembly/Disassembly Building "discovered that certain subassemblies had been dried in an oven at a much higher temperature than intended for the subassemblies. This was due to misidentification of the items and lack of formal, deliberate use of the procedure governing the task of canning items in preparation for oven drying."

The Oak Ridge plant specializes in the manufacture and dismantlement of so-called secondaries, which are the second stage of thermonuclear weapons. The parts also are referred to as canned subassemblies, and they are fabricated with highly enriched uranium and other materials.

The Safety Board Report said Y-12 workers who put the subassemblies in the can did not fill out a required form identifying the items. Later, a different operator who was not involved in the canning filled out those forms but used incorrect information based on "verbal input" from the other workers, the safety staffers wrote in their report..

"Since the items were misidentified, the oven was set at a higher temperature than intended," the report said.

Wyatt would not say how many subassemblies were involved in the oven incident or discuss the temperature variances. In both cases, he said, "That information is not releasable."