A group of people holding shovels, shovel dirt onto a pile to signify breaking ground

Leaders from the DOE, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation break ground on a new disposal facility in October 2023. Representatives from those organizations worked together to finalize a record of decision for the Environmental Management Disposal Facility project that enabled the facility’s site preparation to begin.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released final figures for 2023 that show Oak Ridge is maintaining its position as the national pacesetter for cleanup across the federal government.

This is due in large part to a recent regulatory framework among the Oak Ride Office of Environmental Management (OREM), contractor UCOR, EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) that’s ushering in a new chapter of accelerated cleanup.

Since implementing the framework in 2020, OREM and UCOR have started and completed the most remedial actions, or restorative cleanup tasks, of any of the 175 federal cleanup sites nationwide.

The EPA reports its progress annually to Congress by tracking completed decision documents and remedial actions.

In fiscal years 2020-2022, Oak Ridge accounted for 61% of DOE's completed actions and 20% of all completed federal facility remedial actions nationwide.

OREM maintained momentum with its remedial actions in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. During that period, EPA reported 24 completed remedial actions across the nation, 10 of which came from OREM, accounting for 41% of the nation’s total.

“These remarkable numbers validate our belief in how special Oak Ridge is,” OREM Manager Jay Mullis said. “These results are possible through a tremendous workforce, supportive community and regulators who are committed to advancing cleanup in a meaningful and impactful way.”

A truck carrying debris at a work site

EM workers load debris from the Low Intensity Test Reactor demolition project, completed last year, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Oak Ride Office of Environmental Management and UCOR were responsible for addressing 80,700 tons of debris in 2023, accounting for 88% of the debris addressed in completed remedial actions nationwide.

The framework aids decision-making and approvals needed to conduct cleanup operations at the three major cleanup sites on DOE’s Oak Ridge Reservation: East Tennessee Technology Park, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex.

Management representatives from each organization — OREM, EPA, TDEC and UCOR — serve on a leadership team that sets programmatic goals for the cleanup mission. These goals are communicated to the staff through a selected group of employees identified as the emerging issues team. Designed to identify potential roadblocks and enable resolution on staff-level issues, these teams work cooperatively to resolve regulatory challenges and improve communication so the agencies can make protective, timely decisions.

Through this structure and steady progress in the field by employees, OREM and UCOR have accomplished remarkable achievements.

In 2023, OREM and UCOR were responsible for 84% of the total volume of soil remediation, 88% of debris and 100% of treated wastewater and liquid waste for completed remedial actions nationwide.

Those tallies equate to 740,000 cubic feet of soil, 80,700 tons of debris and 51,000 gallons of wastewater and liquid waste.

In addition to those remedial actions, OREM completed one decision document in 2023. EPA reported seven total completed decision documents in its southeast region that includes the Oak Ridge Reservation.

-Contributor: Ben Williams