Category Archives: mercury

Liang accepts leadership role at Pacific Northwest Lab

liang2Liyuan Liang, a celebrated chemist and emerging science administrator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has been named director of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory in Washington state. The lab is a research user facility at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Liang has performed multiple roles at ORNL, including a tenure as director of the lab’s Office of Institutional Planning. She also headed a scientific team that tackled many of the perplexing issues about mercury in the environment — including how mercury is transformed into methylmercury, its most toxic form.

Allison Campbell, an associate director at Pacific Northwest, said in a statement: Continue reading

Saddleworn reporter heading out of Dodge

As I finished up a recent Chinese dinner of chicken with black bean sauce, I cracked open my fortune cookie and glanced at the message inside.

“All things have an end,” it said, fittingly enough as I get ready for retirement at the end of the month.munger1

For the past 35 years, maybe a little more, I’ve covered the Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge operations. It’s a news beat I created at the News Sentinel after serving as state editor and realizing the wealth of news potential at the government facilities.

It’s been a pleasantly bumpy ride these many years, with a lot of highlights and some unusual happenings. I’m kind of proud of some of the things accomplished. Continue reading

Mercury cleanup at Y-12 could cost $3B


A sample of soil from Y-12 shows the presence of elemental mercury, a legacy of the plant’s Cold War work on thermonuclear weapons.

The cleanup of  mercury contamination at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant could ultimately cost up to $3 billion, according to a Department of Energy report.

The report, dated February 2016, states that the estimated cost for mercury remediation at Y-121 is between $1 billion and $3 billion. The report was prepared to outline the technology plans for mercury cleanup at Y-12, as well as DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Here’s an excerpt about the Y-12 situation: Continue reading

State posts fish advisory on Bear Creek

Decades after discharges from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant polluted local waterways, the state has decided to post a do-not-eat-the-fish advisory on Bear Creek because of increasing public access to a lower stretch of the creek.

“Eating fish with elevated levels of mercury and PCBs is a risk Tennesseans can avoid,” Tisha Calabrese-Benton of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said in a statement released by the state agency. Continue reading

A mercury research facility at creekside

A Field Research Station where Oak Ridge scientists can study mercury in East Fork Poplar Creek is still in the works, even though the Department of Energy recently pulled back its proposal to construct the facility at a natural area in Horizon Center.mercurycreek-thumb-310x175-24360.jpg

“We are currently in the process of identifying alternatives that will meet the needs of the Department of Energy and the City of Oak Ridge,” Mike Koentop, the executive officer of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, said.

The research facility will be relatively small and cost in the range of $1 million, according to estimates. But it’s important that it be located adjacent to the lower stretches of East Fork — the creek that was historically polluted with tons of mercury discharged during Cold War operations at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Continue reading

ORNL benefits from Iran deal; heavy water will enhance operations at Spallation Neutron Source

SNS Building MarkerOak Ridge National Laboratory last year provided scientific and technical expertise to the team that negotiated the Iranian nuclear agreement in Vienna, and the lab is now reaping benefits from that historic accord.

The Obama administration, according to multiple news reports, is buying 32 tons of heavy water from Iran. Heavy water is a key component in development of nuclear weapons and can be used in certain types of nuclear reactors that produce plutonium, and the deal — estimated at $8.6 million — will reportedly help Iran meet commitments for reducing its stockpile of weapons-making material.sns1

The United States does not currently have a source for producing heavy water, and the deal with Iran will help meet a number of needs.

ORNL has been asked to store the newly acquired supply of heavy water, which is water laden with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen. The Oak Ridge lab houses the Department of Energy’s Isotope Business Office, and it will sell quantities of heavy water to qualified buyers.

Besides that, the lab will use several tons of the heavy water to bolster capabilities at the Spallation Neutron Source, a world-class research facility that produces neutrons for experiments that explore the structure and behavior of materials. Continue reading

Cleanup caucus to focus on DOE’s excess facilities

alpha5aerialThe House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., will participate in an event April 20 to look at the Department of Energy’s high-risk excess facilities — a topic that’s drawing concern and increasing attention within the federal agency. The Energy Technology and Environmental Business Association, the Energy Facility Contractors Group and the Nuclear Energy Institute are hosting the event in Washington, D.C.

Some of the worst facilities are in Oak Ridge, notably including the deteriorated Alpha-5 Building (pictured) at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. Continue reading

Not what you want to hear about your basement

y12overviewThe 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.” Continue reading

DOE spending $28M to reduce risks at Y-12, ORNL

????????????????????????????????????The exterior of the Homogenous Reactor Experiment, a research reactor that was operated in the 1950s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. A DOE project will attempt to stabilize conditions at the site to reduce risks until money is available to tear it down and complete the cleanup. Below are photos of the reactor facility’s interior. (Department of Energy photo)

7500 interior 2The U.S. Department of Energy is spending $28 million this year to reduce the risks at several old facilities at Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Laboratory until enough money is available to tear them down and complete the cleanup.

The special fund was part of a congressionally approved “plus-up” in funding for the cleanup effort in Fiscal Year 2016.7500 interior 3

DOE is attacking one of its biggest concerns in Oak Ridge: excess facilities that are rapidly deteriorating but not yet scheduled to demolition. In some instances, it could be decades before enough the federal agency has enough money to get rid of the crumbling and contaminated sites once and for all. Continue reading

Mercury treatment facility enters final design

mercurysignOne of most anticipated projects on the horizon is the new mercury treatment facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The big project, with a price tag approaching $150 million, is extended to help reduce discharges of mercury into East Fork Poplar Creek.

URS-CH2M Oak Ridge, the Department of Energy’s chief cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge, is working on the design.

Asked for an update on the design effort, UCOR spokeswoman Anne Smith provided this response via email: Continue reading

UCOR ramps up work on Y-12 mercury-treatment design; Oak Ridge and Savannah River sharing resources on mercury issues

mercurysignUCOR (URS-CH2M Oak Ridge) is the Department of Energy’s cleanup manager in Oak Ridge, and that role has brought the contractor head to head with some challenging tasks — such as fixing the leak in the reactor pool at the ORNL’s Oak Ridge Research Reactor and tearing down lots of big buildings.

UCOR also has been given the lead in designing a new mercury treatment facility at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, and that work is starting to really move forward, with the preliminary design to be completed in the spring of 2016, according to UCOR’s recent response to questions. Continue reading

Alexander: DOE Office of Science due for record funding

alexandersummitU.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, said the Energy & Water Appropriations Bill (to be included in the proposed Omnibus bill) has a record level of funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science — which is the main funder of research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The Office of Science is reportedly in line for $5.3 billion in FY 2016.

In a release from his office, Tennessee’s senior senator cited the importance of the funding for the lab’s supercomputer initiatives — including a path to once again hosting the world’s fastest computer by 2018 — as well as environmental cleanup in Oak Ridge. Continue reading

Mercury discharges decline at Y-12; much work remains

mercuryinsoil.jpgSoil sample from the Y-12 site shows globules of mercury. (ORNL photo)

The U.S. Department of Energy says mercury discharges at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant have declined in recent years, due — at least in part — to a Recovery Act-funded project in 2011 that cleaned out and repaired the plant’s storm sewer system.

However, there are multiple factors associated with the mercury levels in East Fork Poplar Creek, the recipient of Y-12’s discharges for decades, and so it’s not clear if the mercury reduction has been fully documented or if that downward trend will continue.

The situation is complicated. Continue reading