Oak Ridge Site

Office of Environmental Management

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Demolition progress at Oak Ridge

Demolition progress at Oak Ridge

Recovery Act workers at Alpha 5 at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn., survey waste as part of the characterization process to determine its proper disposition path

Recovery Act workers at Alpha 5 at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn., survey waste as part of the characterization process to determine its proper disposition path

OVERVIEW

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge Reservation is located on approximately 33,500 acres in East Tennessee. The reservation was established in the early 1940s by the Manhattan District of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the site played a vital role in the production of enriched uranium during the Manhattan Project and Cold War. The Oak Ridge site contains three primary cleanup areas—the East Tennessee Technology Park, the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Each campus performs a diverse set of missions, but all share a crucial need for environmental cleanup.

DOE's East Tennessee Technology Park, originally known as the K-25 site, was built as a uranium enrichment complex for defense programs. The majority of the facilities have been inactive since uranium enrichment production ceased in 1985, and DOE's Environmental Management (EM) program is currently performing demolition and cleanup of the area to convert it into a private industrial park by 2020.

Originally, ORNL supported defense production operations and civilian energy research efforts. Currently, ORNL's research portfolio includes basic and applied research, physical and life sciences, supercomputing, advanced material research, and next generation energy research. EM's cleanup activities will enable the laboratory to continue thriving as a world-leading center for advanced energy research. Cleanup includes decontamination and decommissioning of radioactively-contaminated facilities, environmental remediation, and disposition of legacy low, mixed low-level, and transuranic waste.

Y-12 originally served as a uranium processing facility. Today, this site's missions include nuclear nonproliferation, dismantling nuclear weapons components, and storing the nation's special nuclear materials. EM is working to drastically reduce the site's footprint and address mercury contamination in the soil and surface water resulting from previous operations. EM is working to ensure a brighter, safer future for Y-12 so it can better perform its mission to secure and protect our nation.

Every day, the EM organization works aggressively to improve Oak Ridge's environment, understanding the safety and future of the site hinges on its accomplishments.

EAST TENNESSEE TECHNOLOGY PARK

Vision 2016

Oak Ridge’s EM program achieved Vision 2016 in August 2016. The initiative was focused on removing the site’s five former gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment buildings (K-25, K-27, K-29, K-31, and K-33) by the end of 2016. The decade-long effort removed a contaminated footprint of 4.5 million square feet. Its completion marked the first time in the world that all of a site’s uranium enrichments facilities were successfully removed, and it opens 300 acres of real estate for industrial redevelopment by the private sector. 

 Vision 2020

EM’s next major initiative at the site is Vision 2020. This initiative is focused on completing all of the demolition at the site by 2020 and working to transfer the entire 2,200-acre East Tennessee Technology Park for use as an industrial park to benefit the regional economy.

EM has several large cleanup projects to complete before that can happen. Next is the demolition of the Poplar Creek Facilities. These 10 buildings were constructed in the 1940s and 1950s to support the site’s nuclear program and operations, and they are ETTP’s most contaminated remaining facilities. The other major remaining projects involve removing Building K-1037, the former centrifuge research facilities, and Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Incinerator, and addressing the site’s remaining soil and groundwater contamination. 

OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY

U-233 Material Disposition and Downblending

Oak Ridge has a significant inventory of Uranium-233 (U-233) stored at ORNL. Due to the cost and security required to oversee this material, EM is working to remove the inventory of U-233 from the ORNL campus. EM is conducting this work in two phases. Phase I includes directly dispositioning the material, and Phase II includes downblending and disposing the material offsite.

Phase I of this campaign involved identifying and transferring material that could be used for other programmatic uses. Phase 1 also includes disposing a portion of the inventory associated with a uranium solidification project offsite, which is ongoing. Phase II involves preparing an adjacent facility for processing activities, and downblending and transporting the remainder of the inventory offsite.  

 Excess Facilities

A recent report showed that more than a quarter of all the Department of Energy’s high risk excess facilities were located in Oak Ridge (at ORNL and Y-12). Specifically, ORNL houses more than 260 “excess” facilities — not operational and no longer serving the Department’s missions. These facilities pose risks to more than 4,000 ORNL employees and the environment, and they block the way for new growth and missions.

Through the Excess Contaminated Facilities initiative, Oak Ridge’s EM program can begin addressing these risks directly. Many of them pose high risk from contamination and deteriorating structural integrities due to their age and the limited resources to maintain so many of them. Through this initiative, the EM program is working to characterize and stabilize facilities that are not scheduled for near-term demolition. The work is preventing the spread of contamination, removing hazardous materials, stabilizing the facilities, and significantly lowering future cleanup costs.

Y-12 NATIONAL SECURITY COMPLEX

Mercury Treatment Facility

In 1953, Y-12 began efforts to separate lithium isotopes to develop hydrogen bombs. This method of separation required millions of pounds of mercury. Flowing at relatively high rates and pressures through numerous pipes and valves, the mercury often dripped or spilled. During the 1950s and 1960s, it is estimated that approximately 700,000 pounds of mercury were lost into buildings, soils, groundwater, and sediments.

Oak Ridge’s EM program is in the final design stages for a new Mercury Treatment Facility that will capture mercury that migrates from buildings and soils when major demolition begins at the site. It is expected to reduce mercury concentrations in the water exiting Y-12 into the Upper East Fork Poplar Creek by 84 percent. The facility is being designed with the capability to treat up to 3,000 gallons per minute, and it will feature a two-million gallon storage tank to collect storm water. The current schedule estimates large-scale construction in 2018, and the Mercury Treatment Facility beginning operations in 2022.

 Excess Facilities

A recent report showed that more than a quarter of all the Department of Energy’s high risk excess facilities were located in Oak Ridge (at ORNL and Y-12). Specifically, Y-12 houses more than 90 “excess” facilities — not operational and no longer serving the Department’s missions. These facilities pose risks to more than 4,000 Y-12 employees and the environment, and they block the way for new growth and missions.

Through the Excess Contaminated Facilities initiative, Oak Ridge’s EM program can begin addressing these risks directly. Many of them pose high risk from contamination and deteriorating structural integrities due to their age and the limited resources to maintain so many of them. Through this initiative, the EM program is working to characterize and stabilize facilities that are not scheduled for near-term demolition. The work is preventing the spread of contamination, removing hazardous materials, stabilizing the facilities, and significantly lowering future cleanup costs.  

Beta 4, Alpha 4, Alpha 5, and the Biology Complex are the largest and most notable excess facilities at the site.

OTHER

Transuranic Waste Processing Facility and Processing

Through years of defense-related research, a great deal of transuranic material, material that is heavier than uranium and usually man-made, was generated and stored in Oak Ridge. In 2003, the TRU Waste Processing Facility was constructed to treat the many forms of waste found around the Oak Ridge Reservation. The EM program is steadily working to process, package, and remove its entire inventory of transuranic waste from the state of Tennessee.

The handling of TRU waste is determined by its composition. Waste that is considered contact-handled can be safely handled without remote equipment. Higher energy radioactive TRU, or remote-handled waste, must be processed by remote control equipment in special rooms called “hot cells.” The TRU Waste Processing Center characterizes and packages TRU waste for transportation and disposition at DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Any mixed low-level waste or low-level waste processed from the TRU waste inventory is prepared for compliant disposal at the Nevada Nuclear Security Site.

Environmental Management Waste Management Facility

Wastes generated from cleanup throughout the Oak Ridge Reservation is disposed in accordance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Oak Ridge's CERCLA waste facility, the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility (EMWMF), was constructed to receive these wastes, and it significantly reduces cleanup costs. The facility is authorized to receive low-level radioactive waste and wastes regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Toxic Substances Control Act from CERCLA-regulated cleanup work. Potential wastes include soil, sludge, sediments, solidified waste forms, stabilized waste, vegetation, building debris, personal protection equipment, and scrap equipment. The latest expansion of the facility increased the EMWMF's capacity to 2.2 million yd3.

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