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Aerial view of Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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 has grown and expanded through the years, and now it is at the forefront of supercomputing, advanced manufacturing, materials research, neutron science, clean energy, and national security.

Originally known as Clinton Laboratories, ORNL was established in 1943 to conduct the pilot-scale production and separation of plutonium for the World War II Manhattan Project. The laboratory was also highly involved in reactor designs and isotope research and production.

ORNL has a large inventory of excess contaminated facilities and legacy waste from previous decades of research. These present risks to the site’s employees, important world-leading research, and investments in new infrastructure.

The ORNL site occupies approximately 4,470 acres and includes facilities in two areas—Bethel Valley and Melton Valley. 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 ramping up work to address the large inventory of excess, contaminated facilities at ORNL, including the site’s 13 former research reactors and numerous isotope production facilities. Many of these 1950s and 1960s-era facilities are categorized as high-risk due to their contents and contamination levels. While demolition is underway on some, crews are inside others performing characterization and deactivation activities. These efforts are reducing risks, stabilizing facilities, and paving the way for large scale demolition that will enhance safety, enable modernization, and provide land for future research missions.

EM is also focused on processing and disposing numerous waste streams from ORNL. The highest priority is removing the remaining inventory of uranium-233 stored in Building 3019, which is the oldest operating nuclear facility in the world. Removing this material will eliminate significant costs associated with keeping this material safe and secure. Currently, employees are processing the low dose portion of the inventory in gloveboxes, and operations will begin to process the high dose portion in hot cells beginning in 2021.

Oak Ridge is nearing completion on processing its inventory of legacy transuranic debris waste. Once complete, EM will shift its focus to treating and disposing the 500,000 gallon inventory of transuranic sludge waste stored at the site.

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

  • Demolish the inventory of high risk excess contaminated facilities
  • Process and dispose the remaining inventory of uranium-233 
  • Complete processing and disposal of legacy transuranic debris waste (contact-handled and remote-handled)
  • Process and dispose the inventory of legacy sludge transuranic
  • Complete remediation of soil and groundwater