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Tuesday, January 10, 2023
40 years later, Oak Ridge mercury still being cleaned up
From April 19, 2022, release by U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management:
During an EM cleanup project, crews drained and deactivated 8,500 feet of piping of the East Column Exchange (COLEX) equipment at the Alpha-4 facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – EM has prepared the East Column Exchange (COLEX) equipment at Oak Ridge for demolition following deactivation work that involved retrieving mercury from the deteriorating structures to prevent a potential environmental release.
“Removal of mercury to prevent future releases is a top priority at the Y-12 National Security Complex,” Y-12 Portfolio Federal Project Director Brian Henry said. “This latest investment eliminates risks to the environment and lays the groundwork for larger mercury-related cleanup projects.”
COLEX equipment was installed in 1955 on the east, west and south sides of the massive four-story, 500,000-square-foot Alpha-4 building. The equipment used large amounts of mercury as part of its operations. Although workers drained most of the mercury from the equipment when operations ceased in 1962, recoverable amounts of it remained in aging lines and equipment that had rusted and deteriorated over the decades.
The exterior of the column exchange processing structure on the east side of the Alpha-4 facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Removing this deteriorated equipment will eliminate risks and move Alpha-4 closer to demolition.
In 2018, EM Oak Ridge contractor UCOR recovered 4.19 tons of mercury before demolishing the West COLEX. By deactivating the East COLEX and performing cleanup work in Alpha 4, UCOR retrieved another 2.3 tons, bringing the total amount of mercury recovered to 6.49 tons.
“During the most recent 11-month deactivation, our team successfully drained approximately 8,500 feet of mercury-contaminated piping, nearly double what we initially expected. We also drained nine tanks and removed 400 linear feet of asbestos,” said Dan Macias, UCOR’s Oak Ridge Reservation environmental cleanup manager.
Construction is also progressing on the Mercury Treatment Facility, which is the linchpin for EM’s cleanup strategy at Y-12. This vital piece of infrastructure will enable EM to begin demolition on large mercury-contaminated buildings and subsequent soil remediation at Y-12.
The facility will provide a mechanism to capture and safeguard against potential mercury releases into the Upper East Fork Poplar Creek that could occur during cleanup operations. When operational in 2025, the facility will be able to treat up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute.