Workers safely remove old mercury tanks from the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Risk removal is the most crucial and pivotal action for EM to achieve its vision and mission locally. The organization works to protect the environment and residents’ and employees’ health, provide clean land for future generations, and bolster DOE missions, modernization, and economic development in Oak Ridge. All of these goals hinge on successfully removing environmentally-threatening risks.

Each of Oak Ridge’s cleanup sites faces unique challenges because the agency conducted different research at each location in decades past. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted nuclear research and isotope development, the Y-12 National Security Complex developed a form of uranium enrichment and conducted weapons production, and the former K-25 Site (East Tennessee Technology Park) conducted uranium enrichment. 

EM has separated Oak Ridge’s risk into three major categories:

  • Environmental Risk - During the 1950s-1960s, Y-12’s operations lost as much as 700,000 pounds of mercury into buildings and the surrounding environment. One of our greatest challenges is containing and removing this element from soil and groundwater. EM is beginning construction of a facility in 2018 that will capture mercury from water before it leaves the site. This facility opens the door for major demolition to begin in the west end of Y-12, which contains the highest levels of mercury contamination.
  • Nuclear/Radiological Risk - The Oak Ridge National Laboratory contains more than 20 million curies of radiological material due to its prior research and production. A substantial volume of uranium-233 is located in the heart of the laboratory, near some of the Department’s most important scientific investments. Processing and removing this nuclear material is among the highest priorities. Currently, the EM program is shipping a portion of the uranium-233 inventory offsite, and it is processing, repackaging, and disposing transuranic waste inventories. Finally, EM’s strategic plan discusses the site’s plan to remove the excess, contaminated hot cells and reactor facilities from the site.
  • Lifecycle Cost Risk - Oak Ridge has a large number of inactive, contaminated facilities that are gradually deteriorating. While the majority of these are inactive, EM is working to complete demolition of the remaining inventory. Completing this task will eliminate significant maintenance and surveillance costs, security costs, and infrastructure costs. These savings will be used to fund additional cleanup at the site annually.