The Department of Energy, of course, is battling lots of obstacles in trying to clean up what once were the engineering jewels of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Not the least of the problems is water pouring through the disabled roofs of old, old buildings. In many cases, DOE is simply trying to stem the tide — so to speak — until the day comes when there’s enough money and manpower to tear down the buildings and clean up the mess.
One of the roofs targeted for repairs is at Alpha-4, a mercury-laden building at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Asked how much rainwater had accumulated in the building’s basement, DOE cleanup manager Sue Cange replied:
“The volume of the water fluctuates because of the season and the amount of rainfall.”
She acknowledged that the contaminated water in Alpha-4’s basement is mingling with the local groundwater. In 2012, DOE estimated there was 151,000 pounds of residual mercury inside Alpha-4.
As noted in an earlier piece, DOE also plans to characterize the old COLEX equipment — once used to process lithium, requiring lots of mercury — that’s outside Alpha-4. The building is the only one remaining at Y-12 that still contains its old COLEX equipment, but DOE for the time being is particularly interested in the COLEX equipment that’s outside.
“We will know more about it once we do the characterization,” Cange said, noting there is mercury “holed up” in the equipment. “I will say we’re very concerned with the structural integrity of the equipment. It’s very old and rusted through, and it is located near the PIDAS fence. So it’s not only in our best interest from a contaminant perspective, but it’s also in the best interest of the NNSA to remove that.”
Alpha-4 is located inside the high-security Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Assessment System.
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