Cold War Mercury Remains Messy, Dangerous, and Expensive

"The Cold War brought mercury to Oak Ridge, and it never really left. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant used enormous quantities of mercury — about 24 million pounds all told — to process lithium for hydrogen bombs.The work was urgent, secret and messy."

"About 2 million pounds of the mercury were lost or unaccounted for during the large-scale production effort, and many tons of the toxic metal ended up in the environment via spills, leaks and waste discharges.

A half-century later, much of the mess is just where the government left it — trapped inside old process buildings and saturating the ground around them, pooled in underground rock formations and polluting the water resources on site and well beyond.

Nobody wants to say how much it'll cost to clean up Y-12's Cold War legacy. But some are starting to build a case for why it may not be affordable, achievable or both."

Frank Munger reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel December 18, 2011.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, 12/19/2011