As the nuclear weapons laboratories begin, or continue, mass teleworking amid the COVID-19 pandemic, production sites with work already in the pipeline are still chugging along at about full staff while trying to protect their work forces from the viral disease.
At the Y-12 National Security Complex, for example, construction continues on the Uranium Processing Facility, and most of the workforce is still showing up to the site each day.
The story was much the same at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, the nation’s sole nuclear-weapons assembly-disassembly hub. As of Wednesday, all three shifts at Pantex were to report for work as usual.
Both Y-12 and Pantex are managed by the Bechtel National-led Consolidated Nuclear Security CNS, a spokesperson for which said that, so far, “operations at both plants are not affected by the response to COVID-19.”
“[W]e are taking appropriate precautions, including increased sanitation efforts, limiting travel and visits, minimizing external visitors, and increasing the use of technology to limit face-to-face contact” at the sites, the CNS spokesperson said.
Likewise, it was business as usual Wednesday at the Honeywell [HON]-managed Kansas City National Security Complex, which manufactures the non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons. There have been no disruptions to operations so far because of COVID-19, a spokesperson wrote in an email.
To help limit the spread of the viral disease at Kansas City, the site has been “increasing cleaning protocols, reducing non-essential travel and large meetings, and working with suppliers to identify potential impacts to the supply chain,” a spokesperson for management and operations contractor Honeywell Federal Manufacturing Technologies said Wednesday.
Kansas City was in a crunch even before the virus hit. The Missouri site is racing to expand its manufacturing capacity and limit cascading delays to nuclear weapons programs caused by the NNSA’s decision — disclosed in 2019 — to use custom-made capacitors instead of off-the-shelf capacitors in the B61-12 gravity bomb life-extension program and the W88 Alt-370 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead alteration.
Meanwhile, the three nuclear weapons laboratories had all widely expanded teleworking at deadline for Defense Daily.
After lagging behind the other two labs, the Los Alamos National Laboratory said Tuesday it had implemented a “a liberal work from home policy.”
The Sandia National Laboratories down the road in Albuquerque, N.M., put a telework order in place earlier this week, and around 4,000 members of its roughly 14,000-person workforce were working remotely at deadline.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is, the hardest civilian nuclear weapons site so far. The lab started transition to minimum safe operations Tuesday and plans to finish by March 23. Minimum safe operations will continue through April 7, according to the lab’s website.
Livermore’s host county, Alameda, this week ordered residents and businesses to shelter in place, to limit the spread of the COVID-19 viral disease. At deadline, no nuclear weapons site faced such tight restrictions because of the pandemic. Livermore is leading the W80-4 and W87-1 life extension programs that are next in the pipeline after B61-12 and W88 Alt-370 wrap up during the first half of this decade.
DoE headquarters has said this week that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Department, although whether the declaration covers both federal employees or contractors is not clear.
In addition, the office the Secretary of Energy has declined to say whether it is tracking reports of exposure to COVID-19 among its workforce.
Except for Livermore, which acknowledged a reported employee exposure earlier this month, representatives of all the NNSA laboratories, production sites and the Nevada National Security Site have declined, multiple times, to say whether any member of their workforce has reported exposure to COVID-19.