Workers safely remove old mercury tanks from the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Risk removal is the most crucial and pivotal action for EM to achieve its missions locally. The organization works to protect the environment and residents’ and employees’ health, provide clean land for future generations, and bolster DOE missions, modernization, and economic development in Oak Ridge. All of these goals hinge on successfully removing environmentally-threatening risks.
Each of Oak Ridge’s cleanup sites faces unique challenges because the agency conducted different types of research at each location in decades past. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted nuclear research and isotope development, the Y-12 National Security Complex developed a form of uranium enrichment and conducted weapons production, and the East Tennessee Technology Park conducted uranium enrichment for decades.
EM has separated Oak Ridge’s risk into three major categories:
- Environmental Risk - During the Manhattan Project and Cold War, Y-12’s operations lost as much as 700,000 pounds of mercury into the environment. One of our greatest challenges is containing and removing the remaining inventories of mercury-contaminated debris and soil. Our employees are working to identify all of the major locations and sources of mercury contamination, and EM has plans to construct a facility that will capture mercury before it leaves the site. Next, the organization will remove the site’s old hazardous facilities.
- Nuclear/Radiological Risk - A substantial volume of uranium-233 is located in the heart of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, near some of the Department’s most important scientific investments. Processing and removing this nuclear material is among the highest priorities. Currently, the EM program is processing, repackaging, and disposing transuranic waste inventories off-site. Finally, EM’s strategic plan discusses the site’s plan to remove the excess, contaminated hot cells and reactor facilities from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
- Lifecycle Cost Risk - Oak Ridge has a large number of inactive, contaminated facilities that are gradually deteriorating. While the majority of these are inactive, EM is working to complete demolition of the remaining inventory. Completing this task will eliminate significant maintenance and surveillance costs, security costs, and infrastructure costs. These savings will be used to fund additional cleanup at the site annually.