Work began in June to build the Mercury Treatment Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
The Mercury Treatment Facility will allow the U.S. Department of Energy to clean up and demolish several large Y-12 buildings that used mercury to separate lithium for nuclear weapons during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s. The facility is expected to help reduce the amount of mercury in East Fork Poplar Creek, which flows through Oak Ridge.
DOE announced in December that it had awarded a $91 million contract to build the Mercury Treatment Facility. The contract, which could be in place for up to four years, was awarded to APTIM-North Wind Construction JV LLC.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management said the work that has occurred since June has included the installation of fences and barriers. The fences and barriers will identify the boundaries of the two treatment sites and ensure site safety and security, DOE said.
In addition to that work, crews are removing asphalt where the treatment plant will be located on the east side of Y-12.
The Mercury Treatment Facility will have two components at two locations. The two components will be a headworks facility and a treatment plant. They will be connected by a pipeline nearly a mile long.
The headworks facility will capture creek flow on the west end of Y-12, store excess stormwater collected during large rainfalls, remove grit, and pump water through the pipeline to the treatment plant on the east side of Y-12, DOE said. After being treated on the east side of Y-12, the water will then flow into East Fork Poplar Creek.
DOE said workers are preparing to excavate at the headworks site to construct the building’s foundations, and crews are installing a dewatering system to support a deep excavation.
“It’s exciting to have crews mobilized onsite and moving forward on a facility that is a central component of our cleanup strategy at Y-12,” said Brian Henry, Y-12 portfolio federal project director for DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. “After years of planning, designing, and site prep work, we are eager to advance this important project that will enable cleanup and modernization at an important national security site.”
“When the Mercury Treatment Facility is operational, it will limit and control potential mercury releases as crews take down massive Cold War buildings and address the soils—activities that may disrupt the mercury-contaminated area on the west end of Y-12,” DOE said in a weekly edition of “EM Update.”
The Mercury Treatment Facility is designed to treat up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute, and it will include a two-million-gallon storage tank to collect stormwater.
Mercury cleanup is the highest environmental management (cleanup) priority at Y-12. Plant operations used large amounts of mercury during the 1950s and 1960s, and some of it was lost into the environment, DOE said.
Officials sometimes refer to the area where the headworks facility will be built as Outfall 200. That’s the area where the storm drain system at Y-12 discharges at the headwaters of Upper East Fork Poplar Creek. It’s in an area near the Beta 1 and Beta 3 buildings on the south side of Y-12’s main production area.
Y-12 was initially built in 1943 to enrich uranium as part of World War II’s Manhattan Project, but the site soon became an integral part of Cold War weapons production. The process that was used until 1963 to separate lithium for those operations required the use of thousands of pounds of mercury.
When complete, the new Mercury Treatment Facility will allow the demolition of Alpha 4, Alpha 5, and Beta 4, large, deteriorated buildings that once used mercury and date back to the 1940s. After their removal, the DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management will remediate the soils beneath them. The Mercury Treatment Facility is expected to limit and control potential mercury releases as crews take down those buildings and clean up the ground underneath them.
The treatment facility could reduce the flow of mercury, which travels from west to east at Y-12, by an estimated 84 percent. The treatment plant will be modular, and officials will be able to scale it to allow for expansion and to provide flexibility.
East Fork Poplar Creek starts at a spring at Y-12 and flows through central Oak Ridge before joining West Fork Poplar Creek at East Tennessee Technology Park.
This story includes information from the “EM Update” that was contributed by Ben Williams of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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