December 15, 2015

Lithium Operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex

The Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, provides critical support for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) mission to ensure the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the Nation’s nuclear weapons.  Y-12 provides lithium for NNSA’s Defense Programs, such as weapons life extension programs, and is the only site in the Nuclear Security Enterprise that can produce lithium materials.  In 2012, Y-12 took steps to improve maintenance efficiency and reduce costs by discontinuing a portion of the historic process of lithium purification.  One of the improvements was to implement Direct Material Manufacturing (DMM).   However, DMM was not able to fully meet production expectations because source material was not available in the anticipated quantities.  

We concluded that Y-12 had not effectively managed the lithium production process and is at risk of not producing necessary quantities of lithium materials if no additional actions are taken.  Y-12 did not intend DMM to be a permanent solution, and DMM’s ability to meet production goals may not have been adequately considered when deciding to pursue the process.  Additionally, Y-12 did not adequately maintain the lithium operations facility, leading to an accumulation of about $20 million in deferred maintenance.  The facility issues existed, in part, because lithium operations were managed and funded by several programs at Y-12.  

During the course of the audit, management took action to qualify additional DMM material to ensure available supply beyond FY 2017.  Y-12 also issued a plan that management stated would ensure safe and reliable production of lithium materials.

Topic: National Security & Safety