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The Y-12 National Security Complex

The Y-12 calutron facility is where uranium was initially enriched to an increased U235 content. This was done magnetically, and required the uranium to be vaporized. The vaporized uranium was then ionized, so that, as a charged particle, it could be accelerated by magnetic forces. These magnetic accelerators spun the vaporized particles around a track. The heavier particles (U238) tended to accelerate in a wider arc, than the lighter particles. They could thus be captured in containment vessels set at the calculated proper locations.

There were 1152 calutron units, set up as two racetracks. The A racetrack was able to enrich to about 15%. The B racetrack took the already partially enriched uranium, and purified it up to the 90% or so needed for weapons construction. Each of  the 1152 units needed an operator to adjust the field, and make corrections. It was originally thought that it would take an army of highly educated, skilled physicists to do this job; but this turned out not to be the case.

As many of the men were away at war, or involved in war work, the Calutrons were run by an army of women. They were recruited at the local schools, and community colleges, and had no clue what they were actually doing. All they knew, and all they needed to know, was to keep a needle centered on a certain number on a display, by the use of various dials. Sometimes this number would be changed. Today, this entire job, all 1152 units, would be done by a PC class computer.

Today, Y-12 is the National Security Complex, and is our nuclear weapons refurbishment and manufacturing facility. The nation’s entire stock of nuclear material is stored here, in a single building called the Nuclear Materials Storage facility. Needless to say, this is a pretty well guarded building, with multiple layers of security fencing, concrete barricades, open areas with motion sensors, and of course the guards – 600 of them. Though a theft would seem unlikely, a more secure facility is being built, which looks a bit like a castle, or an old time prison.

In addition to securing our stock of nuclear materials, Y-12 is where nuclear weapons are refurbished, and kept in service. There are no excuses or apologies about what this place is, and no pretense of it being a multi function lab – this is a nuclear weapons complex, and nothing else. If we should ever decide to increase our stock of nuclear weapons, this is where they will be built, at least as far as the nuclear components are concerned. Last I heard, the conventional explosive lenses are applied at the Pantex facility in Texas; but this may have changed.

Ordinarily, this whole area is off limits to the public, for obvious reasons. During the Secret City Festival weekend, however, an exception is made. During this time, bus tours take interested visitors into the three mile long, by half mile wide valley, which contains Y-12. Absolutely no photography is allowed, no cell phones or recording devices of any kind are permitted. I thus have no photos from within the facility.


Welcome to the Y-12 national Security Complex. Well, not really; but here is where it is. Outside of the occasional tour, visitors are most decidedly not welcome.
The New Hope Center is the sort of Chamber of Commerce for Y-12. Visitors, and transients are met here, as are new employees, and student groups. Inside are meeting rooms, classrooms, halls, and some exhibits.
A kind of a look at the Y-12 facility during the six years of it's existence.
A short look back at the small farming communities that were displaced by the coming of the Clinton Engineering Works.
Some of the high tech communications gear sued here, during the development of the atomic bomb.
A look at some of the old tools used by scientists of the day.
Some measuring tools and other apparatus used in the early days of the Y-12 facility.
Some protective gear. The early developers had little practical knowledge of the dangers, and were sometimes too cautious, and often not cautious enough.
This box was custom manufactured here for NASA. It is the box which held, protected, and transported the moon rocks taken during the Apollo missions.
Not everything here was produced on high tech machinery. There was still room for hand operators to make the one off pieces of custom gear required for the operation of the place.
Various yearbooks, and newsletters from years past are available, for those who wish to see what life was like here.
This sign, posted at the door the the New Hope Center, leaves little doubt about the requirements of the tour.
Badging in, before heading out to the bus. No cameras are allowed on this tour, so there will be no photos of the complex.
Visitors being checked before boarding the bus to the Y-12 Complex.
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