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Oak Ridge prevents infrastructure failures due to extreme cold
January 23, 2023; 12:05 a.m.

ucor heat trace at oak ridge
UCOR employees Andy Rodgers, left, and Alex Johnson install heat tracing to protect systems at the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility during the cold snap in Oak Ridge. Temperatures did not reach above freezing for more than four consecutive days. Image by UCOR

OAK RIDGE, TN -- Much of the nation experienced an extreme cold snap over the recent holidays, and Tennessee was no exception with temperatures dipping to nearly zero degrees in Oak Ridge. Despite the bitter weather, preparations and recent upgrades helped prevent infrastructure failures during that time.

Many employees with EM cleanup contractor UCOR reported to work over the holidays to ensure issues were resolved at several essential facilities.

At the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility (EMWMF), advanced planning and preparation protected critical water management systems during the deep freeze over the nearly weeklong cold snap, including a 6.5-hour unplanned power outage.

“Prior to the storm we minimized our landfill wastewater inventory, winterized pumping systems, drained all hoses and verified our heat tracing,” said UCOR Waste Disposition Manager Clint Mori. “With over 106 consecutive hours below freezing, EMWMF had no exceedances and did not experience any damage or operational impacts.”

ucor pipe sections
UCOR employees Eric Nicely, left, and Terry McJunkin address two sections of piping to prepare for winter weather at the 3608 Process Waste Treatment Facility, which is part of the critical Liquid and Gaseous Waste system at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Infrastructure upgrades and preventive maintenance helped keep essential facilities online during the recent severe cold. Image by UCOR

Crucial infrastructure at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) must maintain operations continually to support research and cleanup missions. The Liquid and Gaseous Waste Operations (LGWO) system is comprised of 60 facilities and 27 miles of piping that process waste generated from cleanup operations, research and development labs, radiochemical pilot plants and nuclear reactors.

“These facilities are essential to maintaining ORNL operations, so our team had a relentless focus on planning for how to keep those process ventilation and process waste systems online,” said UCOR Nuclear Operations Manager Woody Strom. “When high winds knocked down power poles and we also lost power, we focused on instrument line issues and keeping water and gases moving through the system so they would not freeze.”

EM and UCOR are in the midst of an $18 million project to replace more than a mile of above-ground piping and valves, making the system more efficient and reliable and helping avoid the possibility of disrupting ongoing ORNL operations. That new piping is also better suited to reduce impacts from situations like the recent cold weather grip.

EM’s continued investment in upgrades at both LGWO and EMWMF helped minimize the impact from the recent extreme weather event. That, paired with employees incorporating lessons learned from previous severe weather, helped ensure EM’s infrastructure didn’t take the holidays off.