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The Jack Case Center at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

The Jack Case Center at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

The Y-12 National Security Complex is one of the nation’s most important national security assets. The 811 acre site contains the nation’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium and also performs nuclear non-proliferation missions. Historically, Y-12’s operations focused on a uranium enrichment method that used vast amounts of mercury. Over the years, nearly 700,000 pounds of mercury leaked from machines and pipes into the buildings and surrounding environment.

Oak Ridge’s EM program is working to contain and remediate the mercury that migrated into the environment. It is the highest environmental cleanup priority at Y-12 and the Oak Ridge Reservation because levels currently exceed regulatory standards. The levels are caused by mercury lost during decades of operations and the deteriorating conditions of large former mercury-use buildings. Mercury removal is the highest cleanup priority at Y-12 because all other tasks hinge on its success – lower environmental contamination levels and eventually paving the way for building demolition. Mercury levels are also an urgent priority because Y-12 is the closest site to the city of Oak Ridge.

Y-12’s construction began in 1943 as part of the World War II-era Manhattan Project. Early missions at the Y-12 site included uranium and lithium separations and manufacturing nuclear weapons components. Past processes and waste management practices there contaminated soil, surface water, sediment, and groundwater. EM is working to remove the historical legacies left by previous operations, and employees plan and execute projects aimed at site cleanup and protecting human health and the environment.

EM’s cleanup plan for the site includes demolishing more than 90 excess, contaminated facilities and completing environmental cleanup in the Upper East Fork Poplar Creek and Bear Creek Valley watersheds. EM is working to reduce risks to human health and the environment posed by contaminated sites, facilities, and legacy waste, supporting the Energy Department’s multi-billion dollar investments at the site.

The cleanup portfolio for Y-12 includes removing mercury-contaminated soils contributing to surface water contamination and contaminant migration off-site via the Upper East Fork Poplar Creek. Additionally, EM will address Bear Creek Valley sites contributing to surface water contamination.

EM’s goals for Y-12 are to:

  • Remove and dispose remaining legacy waste
  • Reduce the site’s high security footprint
  • Demolish excess facilities
  • Complete remediation of soil, groundwater, and surface water