The Y-12 National Security Complex is a United States Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration facility located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, near the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Y-12 is managed and operated under contract by B&W Y-12(formerly called BWXT Y-12), a partnership of Babcock and Wilcox (formerly called BWXT Technologies), a McDermott company, and Bechtel.
The facility began operating in November 1943, separating uranium-235 from natural uranium, which is 99.3% uranium-238, by using calutrons to perform electromagnetic isotope separation. Y-12 produced some of the uranium-235 for Little Boy, the nuclear weapon that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. K-25, another facility in Oak Ridge, produced enriched uranium using gaseous diffusion. However, K-25 did not begin operating until early 1945.
Tennessee Eastman was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to manage Y-12 during the Manhattan Project. The company transferred scientists from Kingsport, Tennessee to Y-12 and operated the plant from 1943 to May 1947. The Y-12 electromagnetic plant units were initially operated by scientists from Berkeley to remove bugs and achieve a reasonable operating rate. Then they were turned over to trained Tennessee Eastman operators who had only a high school education. Kenneth Nichols compared unit production data, and pointed out to Ernest Lawrence that the young “hill-billy” girl operators were outproducing his Ph.Ds. They agreed to a production race and Lawrence lost, a morale boost for the Tennessee Eastman workers and supervisors. The girls were trained like soldiers not to reason why, while “the scientists could not refrain from time-consuming investigation of the cause of even minor fluctuations of the dials” .
Union Carbide succeeded Eastman as operating contractor in 1947, remaining until the mid-1980s, when Carbide relinquished the contract to operate DOE's Oak Ridge facilities and Martin Marietta (later Lockheed Martin) took over their operation. BWXT Y-12 succeeded Lockheed Martin as Y-12 manager in November 2000.
BWXT Y-12 currently employs approximately 4,500 people. About 1,500 additional personnel work onsite as employees of organizations that include UT-Battelle, Science Applications International Corporation, Bechtel Jacobs, and Wackenhut Services (a U.S.-controlled unit of the Wackenhut Corporation), which holds the security contract for the site.
The Y-12 Plant was listed as an EPA Superfund site in the 1990's for groundwater and soil contamination. Today, the Y-12 Plant is listed on the DOE's Cleanup Criteria/Decision Document Database (or C2D2 database). Contaminates included in the CERCLA Superfund for this area are nitrate, beryllium, mercury, PCB's, TCE, and radium-226.