Fire Breaks out at Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee, Latest in Spate of Fires Across US

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Multiple emergency crews responded to a fire at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on Wednesday.

The federal facility had all its staff—some 200 employees—evacuated in response to the fire. Some employees in adjacent buildings were also evacuated.

The Y-12 National Security Complex was built as part of the Manhattan Project, a U.S. government research project during World War II, that produced the first nuclear weapons.

“At approximately 9:15 a.m., one of the Y-12 production buildings had a fire in a [chemical handling] hood,” the Y-12 National Security Complex said in a statement on Facebook.

It said in a separate statement, “Personnel have determined the event is contained to the production building,” adding that all evacuated employees “are accounted for” and that there are “no injuries or contaminations found.”

“There is no off-site impact to the public as a result of the incident,” it said.

Compound of Uranium Involved

The Y-12 complex also confirmed that a compound of uranium that employees in the Building 9212 handle was involved in the fire, and that such compounds can come in metallic or solution forms, reported NBC affiliate WSAZ.

Uranium fires can’t be put out with water. Instead graphite, soda ash, powdered sodium chloride, or dry powder is used.

A spokesperson for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) told news outlets that the fire started in Building 9212 of the Y-12 complex.

Building 9212 is a uranium processing building that was constructed in 1945 at the end of World War II.

According to the Department of Energy, Building 9212 is “optimized for a large nuclear weapons production mission necessary during the buildup of U.S. thermonuclear forces in the 1950’s and 1960’s.”

The building “continues to serve as one of the primary chemical processing and enriched uranium production facilities at Y-12.” It is set to be replaced by the end of 2025 by the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) complex.

The cause of the fire is not known. Gene Patterson, spokesperson for Consolidated Nuclear Security which is contracted by the NNSA to operate the Y-12 complex, said that an investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, reported ABC affiliate WATE.

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