Waste Disposal

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Trucks transport debris from Oak Ridge’s cleanup sites to the onsite CERCLA disposal area, the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility.

Trucks transport debris from Oak Ridge’s cleanup sites to the onsite CERCLA disposal area, the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility.

The low-level radiological and hazardous wastes generated from Oak Ridge’s cleanup projects are disposed in the onsite Environmental Management Waste Management Facility (EMWMF). The EMWMF is comprised of six disposal areas, or cells, that have a total capacity of 2.2 million cubic yards. The EM program ensures waste is accurately characterized so materials that are sent to the disposal area comply with all of the regulations included in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

For more than 15 years, Oak Ridge employees have safely operated the current facility without negatively impacting human health or the environment. EM has achieved this through using engineered environmental protection systems, conducting environmental monitoring, and adhering to waste acceptance criteria (The 10 percent of the total waste volume that is shipped offsite contains 90 percent of the contamination). Materials that are shipped to the EMWMF often include soil, sediment, building demolition debris, personal protection equipment, and scrap equipment.

EM uses onsite disposal because it lowers risks and saves hundreds of millions of dollars over the lifetime of the disposal facilities by avoiding transportation and disposal costs. The cost burden of offsite disposal would slow or pause cleanup operations, impacting local employment and allowing risks to remain that can threaten human health and the environment. With onsite disposal, more funds are available for projects that reduce risks and advance cleanup at Y-12 and ORNL.

In addition to reducing costs, onsite disposal to the EMWMF minimizes transportation risks and uncertainty. Onsite disposal only uses a private, designated road on DOE land, known as the Haul Road, which eliminates the risks associated with tens of thousands of truckloads traveling across the country on public highways. Also, onsite disposal is not impacted when other states change policies that could restrict the relocation of waste.

The EMWMF disposal area opened in 2002, and it was fully expanded in 2011. However, with the high volume of waste deriving from demolition projects across Oak Ridge, EM is working to identify a new area and begin construction to begin accepting waste by 2020.

The Oak Ridge Office of EM sends higher level radioactive waste to the Nevada National Security Site, and it sends the Transuranic Waste Processing Center waste streams to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.