D. Ray Smith
This two-part “Historically Speaking” series takes a look at Oak Ridge’s newest intensive training facility, explores the history of such training in the city from after the Manhattan Project to today, and briefly looks at Oak Ridge’s future.
It was prepared with the help of Y-12 National Security Center staff and includes photos from their archives.
Another important milestone was the official opening of the new Oak Ridge Augmented Technology and Training Center (ORETTC) at the Y-12 National Security Center on Jan. 9. For nearly 80 years, Oak Ridge has been home to numerous training programs and facilities that shaped the course of world history—the birth of the U.S. Nuclear Navy, cancer treatment, and the creation of the NNSA National Prototyping Center.
The first building on the ORETTC campus, located west of Oak Ridge on the Oak Ridge Turnpike, is the Emergency Response Training Facility (ERTF), a $15 million, 40,000-square-foot facility funded by the State of Tennessee through government efforts. Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally and Senator Ken Yager. It will provide a unique opportunity to train first responders and others to deal with radiological incidents using mixed reality technology, creating training environments that place participants in infinite scenarios that replicate what they will experience in the field.
“By using this technology, we will train current and future generations of first responders to unprecedented levels of competence,” said Ashley Stowe, ORETTC Director. “Y-12 has long provided the expertise, talent and personnel to deliver this type of training, but The availability of ORETTC has allowed us to take it to the next level of hands-on experience.”
“The Oak Ridge Augmented Technology and Training Center creates another opportunity for Tennessee to become a global leader in nuclear energy,” Governor Lee said at the center’s groundbreaking ceremony. “We look forward to welcoming first responders and experts to this new field and pioneering nuclear safety best practice.”
A second, $20 million, 35,000-square-foot, NNSA-funded Simulated Nuclear and Radiological Activity Facility (SNRAF) will soon begin construction near the ERTF for practical application of training received at the training center.
This new advanced training facility features state-of-the-art technology, equipment, classrooms and multiple use spaces, which will make it the nation’s premier facility for training personnel responsible for safeguarding nuclear and radioactive materials with the latest in nuclear safety, detection and non-proliferation technology. The facility will also train first responders and other experts in nuclear operations, safeguards, cyber and emergency response.
More training facilities
While this training facility is new, Oak Ridge has a history of exemplary training initiatives. The first was the Clinton Training School, founded by Eugene Wigner and run from 1946 to 1947. Then Capt. Hyman Rickover comes along and realizes that by using enriched uranium, nuclear reactors can be small enough to fit in a submarine – and the US Nuclear Navy begins!
Then beginning in 1950, Rickover and Alvin Weinberg began working together to rebuild the school as the Oak Ridge Reactor Institute of Technology. This school is the only one in the world where comprehensive training in nuclear reactors can be obtained.
The Oak Ridge Institute of Reactor Technology pioneered in providing students with hands-on experience with a variety of nuclear reactor designs, including the legendary first graphite reactor, pool reactor, high temperature gas reactor, molten salt reactor, fast reactor and high pressure reactor flux reactor. Ultimately, it enrolls 100 students a year, including international students as well as students from across the country.
Many graduates become leaders in the nuclear industry. It closed in 1965 after the university began developing its own nuclear engineering program.
Another early effort included training developed at Oak Ridge, now known as the Oak Ridge Academy of Science and Education. It was originally conceived by University of Tennessee physics professor William G. Pollard as a peacetime purpose for nuclear science developed through the Manhattan Project.
On October 17, 1946, the Oak Ridge Nuclear Research Institute was established. It was later renamed Oak Ridge Associated University (ORAU). In 1992, DOE formed the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) by consolidating several legacy programs and selected ORAU to manage the newly formed ORISE.
The ORISE program, Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site, is a world-renowned leader in emergency medical response to radiological/nuclear events, with training courses reaching thousands of healthcare professionals, emergency responders and health physicists around the world each year.
Most Unusual: TAT School
One of the most unusual training programs Oak Ridge has ever had is the training and technology program at Y-12. In 1966, Y-12’s contractor, Union Carbide’s nuclear division, began participating in a demonstration industrial training program with the Department of Labor, the Atomic Energy Commission, and Oak Ridge Union University. This learning experiment arose because “…millions of Southerners are unable to reasonably fulfill their work potential, largely because of inadequate education and training.” The relentless effort to train the unemployed and underemployed is It later pioneered other similar projects across the country. It is better known as “TAT” or “TAT School” and is formally known as “Training and Technology”. The TAT school continued until 1984.
TAT has graduated more than 6,000 students, has an employment rate of over 90%, and average wages that far exceed other efforts to provide jobs to the unemployed. Over three years, the money the government invests in each student training program pays off by providing skilled jobs, increasing income tax. Other aspects of this unusual and groundbreaking TAT program were that by 1976 the percentage of female trainees had risen to 13 percent. The proportion of all types of minorities has also increased substantially.
In 1972 and 1975, working release programs were established with local prisons to enable model prisoners to attend TAT. The story follows a trainer who goes to the local prison to pick up a trainee every morning and returns him to the prison at night. Another example of relationship building between teachers and trainees involved a project created so that local high school students could also participate in training. TAT’s success is a great story, and likely bankrupted itself simply because it was successful enough to help change the way training is done across the country.
Others were able to train thanks to a model training program developed in East Tennessee by ORAU and the Union Carbide Nuclear Division with support from the US Department of Energy. Even then, such prototype work was common for the Y-12. Today, Y-12 is recognized as a highly successful National Prototyping Center.
Like the training and technology programs of the 1960s through the early 1980s, the Oak Ridge Manufacturing Technology Center (ORCMT) in the 1990s was a unique and unusual endeavor. It’s a groundbreaking approach to solving tricky manufacturing problems.
ORCMT is another historic initiative from Oak Ridge that has had a wide-ranging impact on industry, nationally in fact. The innovative approach to solving the company’s challenges is a joint effort between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12, along with several other intermediary partners.
These intermediary partners are the University of Tennessee’s Industrial Services Center; the National Technology Transfer Center at Jesuit College in Wheeling, West Virginia; the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the Tennessee Department of Education; the Tennessee Valley Authority Office of Planning and Development Services; and NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership. ORCMT is involved in a wide-ranging initiative to assist many small businesses across the country.
Next, we continue to review the history of training at Oak Ridge and look ahead to what will happen in the future as technology continues to improve.