published Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Y-12 using surplus cleanup funds to tackle mercury


Aerial photograph of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
Aerial photograph of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The Department of Energy is directing millions in unused funds from several Y-12 nuclear weapons plant cleanup projects to tackle the problem of toxic mercury around Oak Ridge.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the Oak Ridge plant used mercury in the construction of hydrogen bombs, and tons of the toxic metal has been discharged into the environment.

Y-12 spokesman Steven Wyatt said the focus of the cleanup is on reducing the amount of mercury getting into East Fork Poplar Creek, which has been posted as a health hazard since 1982.

Several projects are under way, including traps in the plant’s storm sewer that already have removed about 24 pounds of mercury.

There also are plans to remove and dispose of five underground tanks that are potential sources of mercury contamination, Wyatt said. And studies are planned to determine the potential for removing mercury from the soil.

Also, environmental engineers are designing a new water-treatment facility that should reduce mercury to regulatory limits at the headwaters of the creek.

Y-12 has somewhere between $26 million and $32 million for the projects. That is surplus money left over when several Recovery Act-funded cleanup projects at Y-12 were completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

Mark Whitney, DOE’s Oak Ridge cleanup chief, recently called mercury the biggest environmental problem in Oak Ridge.

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