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Cleanup and Removal at its Finest

The multi-billion-dollar cleanup and removal of buried radioactive debris and contaminated soil at the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Reservation left over from decades of uranium processing to make nuclear bombs and power plants for submarines required the utmost caution to protect workers and to ensure radiation containment.

Y-12 cleanupAbout 21 million pounds of scrap metal and liquid hazardous waste, as well as various equipment used in the Tennessee uranium processing plant were buried in a seven-acre landfill at the Y-12 National Security Complex from the 1970s to 1990s. The Y-12 complex is where the nation’s first hydrogen bomb was developed.

When a parking lot was planned on top of the dump, contaminated soil and the debris had to be removed. But due to the buried material’s radioactivity and the irradiated surrounding soil, it was not a normal removal process. In addition to the dump, four decommissioned buildings that were used as part of the bomb-building process were demolished, and five tanks that were used to trap mercury during refinement to make hydrogen bombs were removed starting in 2011 and concluding in mid-2012.

Significant precautions were taken by contractors responsible for operating and maintaining the equipment, and the entire remediation process was monitored and controlled to ensure that near-by workers’ and the public’s health was protected. Operators wore protective clothing while excavators with sheers and grapples dug up the debris and mercury-processing tanks, then tore down the buildings. To keep contaminated dust from becoming airborne, an operator in a man lift sprayed water on the bucket and building while it was being crushed.

When equipment needed servicing, mechanics were required to have special passes, HAZWOPER and radiological training and security clearances in order to enter the facility. On several occasions, buckets and grapples that were not contaminated were raised over a security fence for the mechanics to perform maintenance on them while the excavator body remained on the other side. Mechanics also wore biohazard suits while working on or near the equipment.

Neff Rental’s Knoxville branch rented equipment to contractors at the Y-12 site. For your next hazardous remediation or EPA Super Fund project, call the nearest Neff Rental branch for equipment and support at 888-709-NEFF, or visit