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Skilled tradespeople keep ORNL running

ORNL’s Brad Sexton (left) and Scott Elmore working at SNS in 2012. Image credit: Jason Richards, ORNL

75 years of science and technology

It takes more than world-class scientists and engineers to run an institution like ORNL. It also takes world-class welders, pipefitters, glassblowers, riggers and other tradespeople to keep the facilities running and sometimes to build specialized equipment that is unobtainable in any other way.

ORNL boasts 1,100 staff scientists and engineers working with a wide range of unique, expensive and highly demanding equipment, including two of the world’s most advanced neutron scattering facilities, a range of advanced—and often highly customized—electron and atom probe microscopes, and the world’s fastest supercomputer. Under the circumstances, the lab’s mission support staff have an enormous job keeping ORNL running smoothly.

One team—which included machinists, welders, engineers and a boilermaker—fabricated components that will replace existing equipment at the High Flux Isotope Reactor that can shut down the reactor. Those new components were to be built by an outside firm, but ORNL’s professionals stepped in when that outside firm was unable to meet the reactor’s stringent specifications.

“The value of that is that our people were able to do something that an outside firm was unable to do,” noted Ed Bodey of ORNL’s Integrated Operations Support Division, “which was meet these really critical tolerances in these pieces that were fabricated for HFIR.”

Another group has been nominated for an internal award at the lab for their support in installing prototype equipment that will coat fuel for pebble-bed high temperature gas-cooled reactors. That effort included more than 6,000 hours from the support team and allowed the project to meet a critical DOE milestone.

Still other tradespeople support projects such as the American contribution to the multinational ITER fusion reactor, located in Europe, and the SPRUCE climate experiment in Minnesota.

“It would be very hard to accomplish our mission without the help of our support staff,” Bodey said.