A Summary of ATSDR’s evaluation of Y-12 uranium releases—Oak Ridge Reservation
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A Summary of ATSDR’s evaluation of Y-12 uranium releases—Oak Ridge Reservation

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      In 1942, the federal government established the Oak Ridge Reservation as part of the Manhattan Project to research, develop, and produce special nuclear material for nuclear weapons. Four large complexes were built. The Y-12 plant, the K-25 site, and the S-50 site were created to enrich uranium, and the X-10 site was created to produce and separate plutonium.

      The 825-acre Y-12 plant, now called the Y-12 National Security Complex, is located in the eastern end of Bear Creek Valley about two miles south of downtown Oak Ridge. The Scarboro community, a residential area within the city of Oak Ridge, is about a half mile from the Y-12 plant. The plant is separated from the Scarboro community and the other residential areas of Oak Ridge by Pine Ridge, a ridge that rises to about 300 feet above the valley floor.

      From 1944 to 1947, the Y-12 plant was used to enrich uranium. In 1952, the plant was converted to enrich lithium-6 using a column-exchange process and to fabricate components for thermonuclear weapons using high-precision machining and other specialized processes. In 1992, the mission of the Y-12 plant was curtailed. Currently, the plant is used to remanufacture nuclear weapons components and dismantle and store strategic nuclear materials. The National Nuclear Security Administration uses the Y-12 National Security Complex as the primary storage site for highly enriched uranium. Operational levels have increased since 1992, but total operations have not approached the levels that occurred before the 1990s.

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