Excess facilities at Oak Ridge's Y-12 National Security Complex are marked in red.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – The Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) is improving safety and laying the foundation for cleanup and modernization at two DOE premiere science and national security sites through a new excess contaminated facilities initiative.
A report to Congress by the Governmental Accountability Office served as the impetus for the congressionally funded cleanup initiative. The report notes DOE designated more than 2,300 of its facilities as “excess” — not operational and no longer serving the Department’s missions.
Excess facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are marked in red.
Many of these facilities pose high risk from contamination and deteriorating structural integrities due to their age and the limited resources to maintain them. More than a quarter of all DOE’s high-risk excess facilities are at Oak Ridge’s Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Y-12 has 90 excess facilities to address while ORNL has more than 200.
The initiative allows Oak Ridge’s cleanup program and its prime cleanup contractor, URS | CH2M Oak Ridge LLC (UCOR), to characterize and stabilize facilities not scheduled for near-term demolition. These projects prevent the spread of contamination, help create safer environments for more than 8,000 employees and significantly lower future cleanup costs.
“Several years ago, we had taken proactive steps to identify and evaluate all the remaining cleanup scope across Oak Ridge,” said Jay Mullis, OREM’s acting manager. “When Congress provided funding for this initiative we were positioned to begin addressing some of the most urgent risks immediately. In the past year, our workforce has already made progress remediating risks in multiple facilities at both Y-12 and ORNL.”
Crews at Building 3026 are nearly finished sealing a hot cell and completing other cleanup work.
Workers have completed the majority of characterization sampling at the nine remaining Biology Complex facilities.
In 2016, OREM received $28 million and started six projects at Y-12 and ORNL. These projects seek to stabilize degraded higher risk facilities, characterize conditions and hazards and remove hazardous materials to achieve the lowest risk condition possible.
At ORNL, crews eliminated contamination pathways and fire hazards from two facilities. Workers removed combustible materials from Building 7500, and they will reduce asbestos and remove water this year. At Building 3026, crews are 90 percent complete with sealing a hot cell, characterizing, draining, and disposing the water in a connecting tunnel, and sealing radioactively contaminated areas in concrete. Workers will stabilize the contamination in Building 3028 and 3029’s hot cells. OREM has already used funds for a risk and engineering evaluation at the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment.
The interior of the Biology Complex.
Alpha-4, an aging building with mercury contamination.
Cleanup of COLEX, chemical separation process equipment, continues.
An up-close view of the COLEX equipment.
At Y-12, crews completed roof repairs on Alpha-4, an aging building with mercury contamination, to prevent water intrusion, which is the most significant contributor to structural deterioration and the spread of contamination. Its completion reduces future cleanup costs and stabilizes the environment for future demolition crews. Workers completed 80 percent of the characterization sampling within the nine remaining Biology Complex facilities. The work helps determine the disposal pathway for the building and its contents.
Cleanup of the equipment for COLEX, a chemical separation process, adjacent to Alpha-4 is ongoing. This project removes old, hazardous, mercury contaminated equipment from a future demolition work area. Workers conduct characterization and deactivation activities with an objective to demolish and dispose of the equipment.
“This initiative is not only important for our cleanup program, but also for the future of DOE and Oak Ridge,” said Mullis. “The projects that are being planned and executed now will pay dividends in the future.”
The Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Idaho national labs are also part of the network. They are co-located at large EM cleanup sites and have extensive technical knowledge about those sites.
“We are strengthening historic partnerships and relationships with individual labs to take advantage of the synergies of a larger network supporting the EM program,” said EM Laboratory Policy Office Director Mark Gilbertson said.
Lab representatives met in December to refine the approach to the network, which subsequently underwent review by EM field office and headquarters officials. Creation of the network responds to recommendations from the independent Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories to maximize value in the labs’ world-class capabilities.
The network will work with EM headquarters and sites to leverage investments in training and technology. Students in traineeship programs working in specialized areas could focus on EM applications for their research through partnerships with lab counterparts. Network members will advise EM on new approaches to the agency’s mission and help with issues that cut across their specialties.
The lab team will offer EM leadership a sounding board on decisions to help reduce technical and program risks.
“These are labs with a stake in our success,” Gilbertson said. “Their stakeholders are our stakeholders. Their community is our community.”
EM Acting Nevada Program Manager Catherine Hampton, far right, explains EM’s new management approach to the Nevada Site Specific Advisory Board on Jan. 18.
LAS VEGAS – EM recently restructured its Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) office to increase direct management of its employees supporting the nuclear cleanup there in an ongoing effort to ensure consistent operations across the DOE complex.
EM conducts soil and groundwater cleanup and other work on the NNSS. The site supports NNSA’s nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship and national defense programs, among other missions. EMCBC provides business and technical services for EM’s cleanup.
EM and NNSA agreed on a protocol for managing EM employees working at the NNSA Nevada Field Office (NFO). EM and NNSA will continue to support shared mission needs. Because the field office is primarily responsible for ensuring safe, secure and compliant work at NNSS, EM will follow all NNSA and NFO policy and protocols on mitigating risks to the public, workers and environment
Catherine Hampton, the acting Nevada Program manager, will provide administrative management of EM work in Nevada and ensure effective implementation of the new agreement with NNSA. Hampton has more than 29 years of DOE experience, including roles such as deputy facility operations manager, continuous improvement director and quality assurance lead. She also held positions with NNSA and most recently served in a long-term assignment as the acting EM headquarters external affairs director.
EM Underground Test Area Activity Lead Bill Wilborn, right, discusses geology during a Nevada National Security Site tour.
LAS VEGAS – EM is on pace to make significant strides in contaminated groundwater and soil cleanup in and near the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) this year.
Ensuring the public water supply is safe from groundwater contaminated by four decades of underground nuclear testing at the NNSS is a high priority. This is the mission of the Underground Test Area (UGTA) team, whose end goal is transitioning all NNSS groundwater characterization areas to long-term monitoring. To accomplish this, NNSS scientists conduct investigations, collect and analyze data, and interpret results used to develop computer models of the subsurface environment.
Using various models of geology, groundwater flow and contaminant movement, scientists can monitor and forecast the location and extent of contamination within thousands of feet of complicated geology hidden beneath the site’s 1,360-square-mile-surface. In accordance with a regulatory strategy, data collection and modeling is an iterative process with technical peer reviews built in prior to key decision points.
The peer review process allows NNSS scientists to attain consensus with the scientific community for studies conducted at all groundwater characterization areas. Internal and external peer reviews help ensure uncertainties are sufficiently accounted for, and the model outputs are scientifically defensible.
“It’s not a rubber stamp of approval,” UGTA Activity Lead Bill Wilborn said of the peer review process. “There can be a lot of dissent during a peer review, and you have to address that. It’s a very dynamic dialogue.”
This process was successfully completed to transition the Frenchman Flat groundwater characterization area to long-term monitoring in 2016. That was Wilborn’s biggest accomplishment after more than 20 years.
“I’m very proud we closed Frenchman Flat,” Wilborn said. “This was a significant step forward in our efforts to transition all NNSS groundwater characterization areas into long-term monitoring.”
This year, the UGTA team will collect data at three wells drilled in 2016 at the Yucca Flat/Climax Mine groundwater characterization area to improve and refine models. Groundwater samples will be collected and analyzed for tritium in the lower carbonate aquifer. These results will help ensure the models are conservative and protective of public health and safety.
At the Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain groundwater characterization area, EM will move forward with an approved alternative modeling strategy. The strategy calls for generating multiple one-dimensional streamline models of contaminant transport. Concurrently, scientists studying this area are preparing for an external peer review, an important step toward long-term monitoring.
This journey involves a team of federal, contractor, laboratory, and U.S. Geological Survey personnel led by Wilborn, an EM employee since 1991.
Wilborn finds his work unique; he doesn’t know of another program conducting an effort like this. It’s also exciting to interact with scientists across the nation, from DOE’s Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to the Desert Research Institute, he said. Together, they create EM’s groundwater models to help develop a long-term monitoring network.
EM Soils/Industrial Sites Activity Lead Tiffany Lantow, kneeling, second from right, during a visit to observe revegetation efforts on the Nevada National Security Site with a subgroup of the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations.
Above ground at the NNSS, EM continues to clean up soils contaminated by historic nuclear testing. Closure work begins at the Clean Slate II site this summer, following the successful remediation of the Clean Slate I and Double Tracks sites. These sites were used for plutonium dispersal tests and are located on the neighboring U.S. Air Force-controlled Nevada Test and Training Range, which surrounds the NNSS.
“This year our main focus is the remediation of the Clean Slate II site,” said Tiffany Lantow, the soils/industrial sites activity lead responsible for characterizing and remediating soils, buildings and support facilities contaminated by historic nuclear research and testing. “The primary contaminant at this site is plutonium. We characterized the site last year, meaning we determined the extent of contamination. The area of contamination was smaller than anticipated, so it’s feasible to clean and close that site this year.”
Lantow counts the Clean Slate I and Double Tracks projects, conducted in collaboration with the Air Force, among her most significant recent work accomplishments. Those sites were closed in accordance with the Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order.
“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” she said of the closures. “The completion of both projects came after decades of study and required collaboration across multiple state and federal agencies,” Lantow said.
To prepare for another successful closure, workers will excavate, package and transport radioactive soils and debris from Clean Slate II for disposal at the NNSS.
EM is investigating the nature and extent of contamination at Clean Slate III, another plutonium dispersal test site. EM employees are also conducting investigations and remediating contaminated historic atmospheric test sites on the NNSS. This work, and approval of the final closure reports, moves the project one step closer to completion, which is slated for 2020.
Currently, the project is 82 percent complete, which is a good feeling for Lantow, who joined EM in 2007 after working as an environmental scientist with a partner agency for 10 years.
“I’m proud of our team,” she said. “We are dedicated to ensuring remediation is accomplished in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment using a cost-effective approach.”
Dawn Peterson, second from right, discusses unexploded ordnance on the Tonopah Test Range with Nevada Field Office staff and the U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal team.
LAS VEGAS – Dawn Peterson loves a challenge.
She’s tackled many of them in her more than 20 years supporting the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) missions, helping remediate and close over 100 contaminated sites, as regulated by a legal agreement.
Having spent most of her career working in the field, Peterson now enjoys her role as closure support manager for contractor Navarro, indoors at the Nevada Support Facility. She works closely with EM’s groundwater characterization and soils projects, coordinating field resources to support remediation efforts and drilling operations and collect groundwater and geologic samples. Peterson has become adept in the technical aspects of the project, which ensures the public is protected from access to contaminated groundwater.
“I’m learning a lot at a fast pace, and it’s been fun,” she said.
Peterson worked as a contractor task manager for DOE cleanup projects at past underground nuclear test sites in Colorado, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska and outside NNSS in Nevada.
In 2014, she received a master’s degree in project management from the Keller Graduate School of Management. It’s been critical to her success as she provides direction and oversight to field personnel performing characterization and environmental restoration activities on the NNSS.
No career challenges have compared to the demands she faced while obtaining her undergraduate degree in geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A single parent with a special-needs child, Peterson worked full time as a restaurant manager while completing her degree.
“I have no idea how I did it, but if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.
Lloyd Keith (center) and John McDonald (right of
Keith), with the organization performance division of WRPS, work through a mock
RICHLAND, Wash. – EM’s contractor operations and maintenance teams at the Hanford Site are set to train on a new simulated, standalone water system to improve performance and safety and develop critical work skills.
The employees use pumps, valves, control systems and other devices resembling the site’s facility systems. They avoid possible hazards by using tap water at low pressure and room temperature.
Mission Support Alliance (MSA), Hanford’s infrastructure provider, built the machine late last year based on a simulator from Idaho National Laboratory. A team from MSA and Hanford contractors CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company and Washington River Protection Solutions helped design it.
“In this type of learning environment, an employee can make mistakes, question activities and explore principles without fear of causing an adverse incident,” said Stan Scott, HAMMER’s program manager for requirements and standards. “In essence, they are training on what looks, acts and feels like a real system, but the simulator allows trainees to make mistakes and walk through processes slowly — something they couldn’t do if we were training them on a system that was in place and delivering services.”
An instructor guides and mentors participants in customized scenarios for a variety of training applications, including radiological control and confined space training.
“The simulator will provide a much-needed tool to the Hanford workforce, a tool that will bridge the gap and help develop and improve critical operational skills that are normally not covered in school or in apprenticeship training programs,” Scott said.
Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) Manager of Homeland Security Charles Lewis (from left); a Florida Highway
Patrol participant; SRNL Technical Advisor Carl Jacobs; and a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office sponsor
discuss the setup of the detection equipment in an SUV.
AIKEN, S.C. – The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) recently hosted police departments and government agencies from five states to test vehicles equipped with radiological and nuclear detection.
“SRNL has the unique capabilities to perform testing and exercises that are significant to the nation’s nuclear security,” said Richard Reichel, director of SRNL Global and Homeland Security Programs. “We are able to provide information and distinctive scenarios and settings not possible elsewhere.”
Reichel said this first test in a series validated the equipment, making it a successful, collaborative effort.
test handheld detection equipment to identify radiological material
against a stationary railroad engine.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, Florida Highway Patrol and police departments from Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Suffolk County, N.Y., participated in the event.
To prepare, the SRNL team confirmed no hazards were present and no other activities would be in progress along the demonstration route. They placed sealed radiation sources at various distances from the road along the 1.5-mile route.
SRNL Director of Global and Homeland Security Richard Reichel (left) and SRNL Test Coordinator Dave Premo discuss test sequence with a driver during the testing.
The participants drove SUVs equipped with the detection gear to determine the type and amount of materials used. They drove at speeds ranging from 0 to 35 mph.
The testing team included SRNL employees and pipeline engineers and construction personnel from Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the management and operations contractor at the Savannah River Site.
SRNL will coordinate the second testing phase, which involves the law enforcement agencies assessing the equipment at their own locations.
DNDO’s mission is to execute domestic and global nuclear detection efforts by improving capabilities to deter, detect, respond to and attribute attacks.