Source: EM Update | Vol. 13, Issue 15; Contributor: Shannon Potter | April 20, 2021

An employee configures a control panel that is part of a modernized zeolite treatment system at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) recently reduced the cost of treating wastewater, a vital function to EM’s cleanup mission, by consolidating capabilities into a single facility.

The improvements are among EM’s considerable investments in recent years to upgrade and extend the life of aging treatment systems at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

OREM contractor UCOR completed construction and startup of a new zeolite treatment system that is part of Oak Ridge’s larger Liquid and Gaseous Waste Operations infrastructure. This project consolidates radiological and non-radiological wastewater treatment capability into a single facility that costs less to operate and allows for the deactivation and decommissioning of outdated processing facilities.

“While this wastewater treatment system does not make headlines, it is crucially important to ongoing EM and DOE Office of Science missions in Oak Ridge,” said Nathan Felosi, OREM’s ORNL portfolio federal project director. “EM’s recent investments are improving the system’s operation and reliability and extending the service life of important nuclear mission support functions.”

Installation of the zeolite treatment system is the latest modernization effort funded by a more than $20 million EM investment to upgrade and extend the life of Liquid and Gaseous Waste Operations infrastructure.

The zeolite treatment system is designed to remove cesium and strontium from wastewater. Zeolite, a naturally occurring mineral formed from volcanic ash, strips the contaminants from the wastewater. The system includes five vessels — two dual media filters and three zeolite columns — and dewatering equipment.

Other modernization projects involved replacing deteriorated piping, antiquated equipment, and failing electrical systems.

The Liquid and Gaseous Waste Operations infrastructure consists of numerous interconnected facilities that support crucial waste treatment activities for EM and the Office of Science. Due to its age and deteriorated condition, Building 3544 presented one of the largest risks. The building had served as a radiological wastewater treatment facility for more than four decades, housing the previous zeolite treatment system.

OREM installed the modernized zeolite treatment system at Building 3608, which formerly served as a non-radiological wastewater treatment facility.

By constructing, assembling, and testing the treatment system offsite before delivery, the project team successfully overcame challenges normally associated with on-site construction in the vicinity of an active wastewater treatment facility.

Now that the new treatment process is operational, Building 3544 is awaiting decommissioning in the near future.