During an EM cleanup project, crews drained and deactivated 8,500 feet of piping of the East Column Exchange (COLEX) equipment at the Alpha-4 facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex. (Photo by UCOR)

OREM readies COLEX equipment for demolition at Y-12

According to a release from federal cleanup contractor UCOR, the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (EM) has prepared the East Column Exchange (COLEX) equipment at Oak Ridge for demolition following deactivation work that involved retrieving mercury from the deteriorating structures to prevent a potential environmental release.

“Removal of mercury to prevent future releases is a top priority at the Y-12 National Security Complex,” Y-12 Portfolio Federal Project Director Brian Henry said in the release. “This latest investment eliminates risks to the environment and lays the groundwork for larger mercury-related cleanup projects.”

COLEX equipment was installed in 1955 on the east, west and south sides of the massive four-story, 500,000-square-foot Alpha-4 building. The equipment used large amounts of mercury as part of its operations. Although workers drained most of the mercury from the equipment when operations ceased in 1962, recoverable amounts of it remained in aging lines and equipment that had rusted and deteriorated over the decades.

In 2018, EM Oak Ridge contractor UCOR recovered 4.19 tons of mercury before demolishing the West COLEX. By deactivating the East COLEX and performing cleanup work in Alpha 4, UCOR retrieved another 2.3 tons, bringing the total amount of mercury recovered to 6.49 tons.

“During the most recent 11-month deactivation, our team successfully drained approximately 8,500 feet of mercury-contaminated piping, nearly double what we initially expected. We also drained nine tanks and removed 400 linear feet of asbestos,” said Dan Macias, UCOR’s Oak Ridge Reservation environmental cleanup manager.

Construction is also progressing on the Mercury Treatment Facility, which is the linchpin for EM’s cleanup strategy at Y-12. This vital piece of infrastructure will enable EM to begin demolition on large mercury-contaminated buildings and subsequent soil remediation at Y-12.

The facility will provide a mechanism to capture and safeguard against potential mercury releases into the Upper East Fork Poplar Creek that could occur during cleanup operations. When operational in 2025, the facility will be able to treat up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:30 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, and cats Oliver, Bow and Libby.

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