The Kansas City National Security Campus is moving some of its workforce off-site to help cope with COVID-19, making it the latest Department of Energy civilian nuclear weapons site to expand telework during the pandemic.
“To further protect our work force during the COVID-19 crisis, the Kansas City National Security Campus has reduced its on-site personnel and expanded telework opportunities so employees can continue to meet our critical national security requirements in a safe and secure manager,” according to a message recorded Sunday on the Kansas City, Mo., plant’s main telephone switchboard. “Employees should contact their managers if they have questions about work assignments.”
Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies [HON] manages the Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC) for DoE’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The site manufactures the non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons, which are needed for all ongoing and planned arsenal modernization programs.
Spokespersons for the plant did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday. There were some 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kansas City, Mo., as of Monday, but no reported deaths from infection. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has locked the city down at least through April 24, closing nonessential businesses and schools and ordering residents to leave their homes only to buy groceries or seek medical care.
The Kansas City National Security Campus, deemed an essential national security business, stayed open, despite the mayor’s order. About 4,000 people work at the plant.
Even before COVID-19 rapidly spread through the U.S. in March, KCNSC was behind the eight ball. The NNSA’s decision last year to throw out some commercial capacitors intended for the B61-12 gravity bomb and W88 Alt-370 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead, and instead use custom-made capacitors designed by the Sandia National Laboratories, caused cascading delays to other nuclear weapons modernization work at the plant.
The three NNSA nuclear weapons laboratories–Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia–had gone to minimum safe operations, or essentially that status, as of last week, barring all but essentially employees from their sites.
KCNSC and the other production sites–the the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas–had continued operations as normal until Kansas City’s announcement Monday. The sites had instituted added sanitary precautions, but not curtailed shifts. Y-12 has one case of COVID-19, at least, among its workforce.
The Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., moved to minimum safe operations after reporting a confirmed case, though NNSA tritium harvesting continued there, as did plans to build the site’s future plutonium pit plant.