Source: EM Update | Vol. 12, Issue 3; Contributor: John Gray | January 21, 2020


Personnel open a 36,000-pound concrete door to enter a hot cell within Building 2026 at Oak Ridge.

Renovations are underway to prepare a facility to process a high-dose portion of the site’s uranium-233 inventory, enabling EM to convert the material into a disposal-ready form after extracting an unprecedented amount of thorium for next-generation cancer research.

Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management contractor Isotek is performing the work to support EM’s highest priority project at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory: to eliminate the nation’s uranium-233 inventory.

Stored in the world’s oldest operating nuclear facility, Building 3019, uranium-233 is an isotope that had been created as an alternative fuel source for nuclear reactors in decades past. It did not prove viable.

The high-dose uranium-233 canisters, which make up the majority of the remaining uranium-233 inventory, will be processed in Building 2026 hot cells with protective shielding and remote mechanical arms needed to handle the material.

Workers are performing upgrades to the hot cells, which have radiological contamination from previous DOE research missions. Crews wear protective suits and construct containment tents to prevent the spread of radiological contamination once a hot cell is opened.

Crews also are removing old equipment to make way for new installations, including a cell portal to make material entry easier, cutting tools to open uranium-233 storage canisters, pumping systems for chemicals, filtration systems to extract the thorium, and remote manipulators.

Other big changes are in store for Building 2026 this year. Rooms will be remodeled to store large tanks of down blended material, and a two-story mixing silo will be constructed outside the facility to provide cement to mix with the down blended material.

Isotek is currently processing low-dose canisters of uranium-233 in gloveboxes, and it expects to begin hot cell processing later this year.