The Department of Energy’s three major production sites have returned to normal operations with maximum telework even as cases of COVID-19 rise again around the nation. This means many support services workers are back on-site at the nuclear-weapon facilities, even while people who can easily work remotely continue to do so.
A spokesperson for the Kansas City, Mo., National Security Campus said Monday the manufacturing hub for non-nuclear parts of nuclear weapons had transitioned to normal operations, joining the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The latter two sites — respectively, the U.S. weapons service hub and the manufacturing site for uranium-powered secondary stages — finished the transition by June 19.
DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) owns the sites.
Some percentage of the facilities’ employees were kept home from late March to late May, when most states ordered the majority of businesses closed and either asked or ordered citizens with nonessential jobs to shelter in place. None of the sites will say how many workers stayed home and are now again reporting to their usual stations inside the fence. Support work includes information technology specialists, administrative personnel, and others.
The three production plants welcomed more people back during an early summer explosion of new confirmed U.S. cases of the viral disease. Kansas City and the Amarillo area have experienced far worse outbreaks than Oak Ridge; Y-12 started letting many of its employees return to work in the second week of May, almost a month before Pantex started its transition to normal operations and maximum telework.
These sites have, from the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, faced pressure from NNSA leadership not to slow operations. Although each has had multiple confirmed cases of the respiratory illness, plus many associated quarantines of other personnel, all continued to bring people in for their usual shifts throughout the pandemic response.
NNSA headquarters came up with the designation “normal operations with maximum telework,” which connotes not the maximum fraction of workers expected to be on-site, but rather the types of workers allowed in. Broadly, the NNSA sorts these into workers needed to complete national security work, and those supporting them. Normally, there are about 3,500 employees at Pantex, 4,000 employees at Kansas City, and 6,000 or so at Y-12.
Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies [HON] manages the Kansas City plant, while Consolidated Nuclear Security manages Pantex and Y-12. The NNSA recently decided not to pick up any more options on Consolidated Nuclear Security’s contract, meaning the Bechtel National-led team will cease managing the sites after Sept. 30, 2021.