A snow covered road and facility building

Snow falls on the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility. UCOR workers there shipped leachate, or water that collects from rain, prior to the snowstorm to minimize the site inventory of landfill wastewaters and maximize available storage capacity.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The biggest snowstorm in more than three decades here amid single-digit temperatures presented several challenges to EM’s operations on the Oak Ridge Reservation.

Thanks to pre-storm preparation, response and coordination with cleanup contractor UCOR, the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management was able to continue critical operations and made it through the recent storm and its aftermath without incident.

“We knew that cold weather preparation is always the key to recovery from a storm, especially at the scale we experienced,” said Sam Dolynchuk, UCOR’s deputy chief operating officer.

Prior to the storm, employees shut off water supplies, drained plumbing, verified heat trace and added more insulation at sites across the reservation. Heat tracing is used to maintain or raise the temperature of pipes and vessels.

An example of those efforts was when workers drained a water treatment system for the Beta-1 building at the Y-12 National Security Complex. At the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), teams cleared the site and developed a response team, which included mechanics to assist with equipment issues related to extreme temperatures.

A bulldozer clears snow off a road
UCOR crews with heavy equipment clear roads at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

At the landfills, crews verified that key systems were operational; drained hoses, pumps and other equipment prone to freeze damage; and staged heavy equipment for anticipated snow clearing and salt spreading. Workers also shipped leachate — or water that collects from rain — from the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility prior to the storm to minimize the site inventory of landfill wastewaters and maximize available storage capacity.

“I think the biggest avenue to our success was preparation and making the conscious decision to dedicate resources ahead of time to prepare and make tools and essential items available for response,” said Jimmy Hughes, area project manager with Heritage Center, which is the former ETTP site. “So, when we did respond it was more about following a plan, rather than creating one and then trying to implement simultaneously.”

An employee clears off snow from stairs and sidewalks






An Isotek employee on the Oak Ridge Reservation moves snow and ice from steps to ensure safe access for co-workers.


At Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), equipment maintenance and pathway clearance helped ensure the safety of those onsite. Crews prepared parking lots and entrances around ORNL nuclear operations facilities, focusing on the Process Waste Treatment Center, which is a 24/7 operation.

The Emergency Services Watch Office monitored weather conditions and provided updates to officials for appropriate site closure decisions. It also worked closely with the communications team to keep employees informed about impacts and changes to work locations and schedules.

Employees with EM’s contractor Isotek also took steps to keep their employees safe. Maintenance teams helped break up ice on roads and walkways at ORNL.

Such efforts helped ensure employees could access their work areas when they returned, and enabled them to safely transport uranium-233 material between buildings. Processing operations resumed without a hitch.

-Contributors: John Gray, Wayne McKinney