From left, UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter, EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management Manager Jay Mullis, Zeno Power CEO Tyler Bernstein and NASA Chief Technologist Len Dudzinski stand together in meeting room with flags and poster boards.

From left, UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter, EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management Manager Jay Mullis, Zeno Power CEO Tyler Bernstein and NASA Chief Technologist Len Dudzinski celebrate a partnership that is reusing legacy radioactive material previously stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for national security and science missions.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Partnerships were a major theme when EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White traveled to Oak Ridge last week.

White and others from EM headquarters visited teams from other DOE programs, federal agencies and private companies working with EM to advance cleanup.

His first day included multiple stops at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), giving him the opportunity to meet with top leadership, scientists and researchers supporting cleanup, and staff advancing important DOE Office of Science missions.

White began his tour at the Aquatic Ecology Lab where he observed research that will be pivotal for future mercury remediation projects. ORNL has assembled a diverse team that is making headway on world-leading technology development, modeling and research to understand how mercury moves and changes in the environment.

Their findings are helping inform and shape how crews address areas with heavy mercury contamination at the Y-12 National Security Complex in the years ahead. With mercury advisories for fish in all 50 states, their work will also be beneficial nationwide.

Teresa Mathews, a senior scientist and group leader for the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), shows EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White a map.

Teresa Mathews, a senior scientist and group leader for the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), shows EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White a map of where her team is conducting research to better understand how mercury moves and changes in the environment. Photo courtesy of Carlos Jones, ORNL.

White also stopped at the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center (REDC) and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF).

Experts at the REDC produce unique radioisotopes for applications in research, national security, medicine, space exploration and industry. Employees at the MDF are focused on reducing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing sector, efficiently utilizing abundant and available domestic energy resources, and supporting the production of clean energy products that boost the nation’s economy.

In addition to learning more about existing partnerships, White also announced a new innovative public-private partnership while in Oak Ridge. That partnership with Zeno Power has eliminated legacy radioactive material previously stored at ORNL, and the company will recycle the material into a source of clean energy.

Supported by environmental cleanup contractor UCOR, the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) transported a radioisotope thermoelectric generator containing strontium-90 to an out-of-state commercial nuclear facility last week. Zeno will recycle the material to power its radioisotope power systems. The technology in these systems is capable of converting heat generated by the decay of radioisotopes into a reliable source of electricity in remote and challenging environments.

“Doing something like this requires an enormous amount of integrated collaborative work across several different organizations,” said White. “In this case, it was two different government organizations, multiple contractor organizations, several different sites across DOE, all designed around a great idea — which is taking a liability that had no clear disposition path and being able to do something with it that will benefit the broader community and the government in the future.”

Man stands in front of metal workbench with hand out speaking to group of visitors at a facility.

Bill Peter, program director for Advanced Manufacturing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), discusses the laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility with EM Senior Advisor William “Ike” White during a tour of the facility. Photo courtesy of Carlos Jones, ORNL.

Zeno has contracts in place to develop innovative radioisotope power systems for the U.S. Department of Defense. The company is also developing this technology with NASA and other companies to enable long-term lunar applications.

The transported equipment was built in the mid-1980s at ORNL, but it was never deployed. It had been stored there for nearly 40 years, and before this new partnership, it was expected to remain in storage for another 30 years before EM could dispose of it.

“This transfer highlights another unique approach our team has taken to accelerate environmental cleanup in Oak Ridge,” said OREM Manager Jay Mullis. “This is a win-win scenario that’s removing a significant source of radioactivity at a savings to taxpayers, while also supporting nuclear innovation.”

When it comes to partnerships, White says EM is always looking for more to make more progress.

“If there are folks out there who see this and who have ideas, I really encourage them to bring them forward,” said White. “We’re always looking for folks who have creative and innovative ideas about better ways of doing things. We have a lot of problems to solve around the country and having partners who can work with us and find better ways of doing business is something we always look forward to.”

-Contributor: Ben Williams