This story and photos were published in the May 17 edition of the EM Update newsletter by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management.
Oak Ridge’s environmental management, or EM, program and contractor URS | CH2M Oak Ridge have prevented more than 1,000 pounds of mercury from entering the environment at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
This work, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Excess Contaminated Facilities initiative, enables demolition and disposal of massive mercury-contaminated equipment to begin this month.
Workers are inspecting and cleaning the pipes and column exchange (COLEX) equipment on the west side of Alpha-4 at Y-12. They have tapped and drained approximately 2,100 feet of the 5,700 feet of piping so far, retrieving large amounts of mercury, and more is expected as work continues. EM will address and remove the remaining portions on the facility’s east and south sides in the future.
“This project has proven to be a very successful investment for our program,” said Oak Ridge Office of EM Acting Manager Jay Mullis. “We set out to remove risks and enhance safety through the Excess Contaminated Facilities initiative, and our efforts at Alpha-4 will prevent thousands of pounds of mercury from leaking into the environment.”
The project prevents mercury releases and risks stemming from rusted, structurally-degraded equipment, clearing the way for Alpha-4’s eventual demolition, a major cleanup goal at Y-12.
The mercury-contaminated COLEX equipment is connected to the four-story 500,000-square-foot Alpha-4. The building was used for uranium separation from 1944 to 1945. Workers finished installing the COLEX equipment in 1955 for lithium separation, a process that required large amounts of mercury. A significant amount of the element was lost into the equipment, buildings, and surrounding soils, and its cleanup is one of EM’s top priorities.
Workers have already dismantled approximately 1,100 feet of the drained piping. Demolition of the equipment begins this month and is expected to be complete later this year, removing approximately 3,300 cubic yards of equipment.
EM Update contributors: Wayne McKinney, Ben Williams