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An aerial view of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory campus.

An aerial view of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory campus.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the nation’s largest multi-program science and technology laboratory. ORNL's mission is to deliver scientific discoveries and technical breakthroughs that will accelerate the development and deployment of solutions in clean energy and global security. Today, ORNL pioneers the development of new energy sources, technologies, and materials and the advancement of knowledge in the biological, chemical, computational, engineering, environmental, physical, and social sciences.

Originally known as Clinton Laboratories, ORNL was established in 1943 to carry out a single, well-defined mission: the pilot-scale production and separation of plutonium for the World War II Manhattan Project. The laboratory was also highly involved in isotope research and production. From this foundation, ORNL has evolved into a unique resource for addressing important national and global energy and environmental issues. However, amid the modern infrastructure are numerous old, contaminated buildings and area’s remaining from past operations and waste practices.

The EM program has numerous missions and responsibilities at the ORNL campus, and our employees are focused on removing past legacies and improving environmental health and employee safety—allowing modernization of one of DOE’s greatest assets.

The main ORNL site occupies approximately 4,470 acres and includes facilities in two valleys—Bethel Valley and Melton Valley. For site cleanup purposes, EM has divided ORNL by these two major valleys. Bethel Valley, which includes the central campus area of ORNL, includes reactor facilities, isotope production facilities, waste treatment facilities, and research facilities. Melton Valley includes reactor facilities, research facilities, waste treatment facilities, and waste management areas.

EM is also responsible for de-inventorying uranium-233 materials housed at Building 3019, completing processing of transuranic waste inventories generated from past operations, completing demolition on excess and contaminated facilities, dispositioning legacy waste, transitioning operational infrastructure, and remediating soil and groundwater at ORNL. Ultimately, the end-state for EM’s work at the site is to meet regulatory commitments and support revitalization efforts for expanding science missions. However, to accomplish our vision we must demolish more than 260 facilities (including hot cells and eight reactor facilities), remove thousands of feet of contaminated underground piping, remove radioactive and organic contaminants in the soil and groundwater, and process or transport large quantities of nuclear materials and waste. 

Today, EM conducts surveillance and maintenance responsibilities for hundreds of buildings at ORNL until they are scheduled for demolition. Many of these facilities require intensive evaluations to monitor their conditions, including the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment facility and facilities that contain heavily shielded rooms that conducted radiological and isotope research, known as “hot cells.” The Molten Salt Reactor facility alone contains nine metric tons of salt that surrounded the experimental nuclear reactor. In addition, EM manages and operates Building 3019 (the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility) and oversees the Liquid Gaseous Waste Operations that involve active low-level liquid waste and process waste waters generated by the laboratory.     

EM’s ultimate goals of the cleanup program at ORNL:

  • Protect human health and the environment—ORNL will be remediated to protect the public, laboratory workers, terrestrial and aquatic organisms, and groundwater.
  • Disposition facilities through activities involving legacy material disposition, decontamination, demolition, and/or transfer for future use.
  • Remediate soil and groundwater, allowing EM to only conduct long-term monitoring required and possibly a minor amount of treatment.
  • Disposition all waste.
  • Release acreage for future redevelopment.