(487b) Critical Issues in Environmental Cleanup of Former Nuclear Sites

Authors: 
Conner, H., AECOM
Rueter, K., UCOR URS | CH2M Oak Ridge LLC
URS | CH2M Oak Ridge LLC (UCOR) combines the talents of two global engineering, design, construction, project management and environmental services companies – AECOM and CH2M – and small business partner Restoration Services, Inc. (RSI). With AECOM as lead partner, UCOR manages the cleanup of 2,200-acre East Tennessee Technology Park for its client and partner, the U.S. Department of Energy, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The site was contaminated with radioactive, hazardous and industrial wastes generated by more than 40 years of national defense and energy missions.

The East Tennessee Technology Park, once called the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, was built as part of the super-secret Manhattan Project in the 1940s to enrich uranium for the atomic bombs that would end World War II. The site later produced enriched uranium for commercial and defense purposes. Operations ceased in 1985, and the site was permanently shut down in 1987.

That same year, the Oak Ridge Reservation was placed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site, designating it to be cleaned up under the provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) DOE then began cleanup operations which includes demolition of many of the buildings at the site.

This massive, multi-decade cleanup mission is executed through close partnerships among the DOE, UCOR, community stakeholders and the represented workforce. These partnerships work to advance environmental cleanup, enable new and enduring missions, and support the shared vision to reindustrialize the East Tennessee Technology Park, turning it into a vibrant private sector industrial park.

Progress to date has been impressive and, in some ways, unprecedented. In August 2016, the partnership completed DOE’s Vision 2016 for ETTP to achieve the first-ever successful demolition of a former uranium enrichment complex’s processing buildings. This historic achievement, which was safely accomplished well ahead of schedule and under budget, was made possible by the committed workforce.

After successfully completing the unprecedented demolition and cleanup tasks associated with Vision 2016, UCOR is now supporting DOE in realizing the ambitious goals of Vision 2020. By 2020, DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and its cleanup workforce will be ready to undertake the last tasks that will enable final cleanup and closure of ETTP. Concurrently, reindustrialization efforts will facilitate DOE’s long-term vision for ETTP – a multiuse private sector industrial park that will also include structures commemorating the site’s historic contributions to defense and energy missions as part of the 409thU.S. National Park.

From that point, DOE’s Vision 2024 will enable environmental cleanup at the Y-12 National Security Complex and oak Ridge National Laboratory led by the expert workforce that achieved ETTP cleanup. Projects that will “bridge” this transition will focus on aging, contaminated facilities and structures, mercury mitigation and waste disposal.

UCOR’s experience and success in Oak Ridge -- achieving savings and meeting schedules in complex and hazardous environments -- fit very well with the theme of this year’s AIChE conference. We promote innovation in all phases of our work. We excel at generating ideas that lead to workable solutions. And we have built a stellar reputation managing challenging projects while working with and maintaining a highly skilled workforce.

Our activities also reflect the theme of this session – dealing with Critical Issues and making Critical Decisions that keep the company positioned for success in current tasks and ready to meet customer demands of the future.

Unquestionably, the workforce is the key to our success. Once assembled, the skills and talents of these workers form a unique team of diverse backgrounds and disciplines that, if disbanded, would be difficult to duplicate. Blended together and properly applied and managed, the current team creates an unparalleled force channeled toward achievement of goals and visions that serve vital national interests and set the stage for growth and progress in the decades ahead.

Maintaining a quality workforce requires a series of critical decisions throughout the life of the project. As a result, UCOR is focused on tightly sequencing the beginning and end of cleanup projects to accommodate the availability of workers with the single-minded purpose of keeping this impressive talent base together with adequate opportunity for continued contributions and steady-state employment through the remaining years of site cleanup.

Decisions are being made today that will build bridges to the future and impact economic growth and the missions and capabilities of the Oak Ridge research and production complex for decades to come.

DOE’s trio of visions for cleanup spanning the period 2016 to 2024 mark distinct milestones and periods of progress. These cleanup activities will ultimately move the Oak Ridge Reservation from demolition of five gaseous diffusion plants – a historic first-ever achievement (2016) – to complete cleanup and reindustrialization of the East Tennessee Technology Park (2020) and, finally, to demolition and cleanup of unneeded hazardous facilities at the Y-12 National Security Complex and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Both of these facilities are vital links in the nation’s national security framework, and cleanup is essential to safe working conditions and growth of missions in the years ahead.

As these missions progress, critical decisionmaking is also manifested in planning for urgently needed future facilities, including additional onsite waste storage capacity and construction of a new treatment facility to reduce the impact of mercury contamination created over the decades as part of Y-12’s defense-related operations. A new waste storage facility will fit into UCOR’s innovative waste management approach which calls for waste to be disposed as it is generated using a “waste factory” concept that involves dedicated haul roads, predominantly onsite storage and early planning to streamline disposition throughout the cleanup process.

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