Mercury is ideal for use in such things as thermometers and vacuum gauges (manometers) because this naturally occurring silvery liquid expands and contracts evenly with temperature and pressure changes. Within the Nuclear Materials Technology (NMT) Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, mercury containing devices are used for a variety of operations, including actinide chemistry, weapons production, radiochemistry, and analytical chemistry. Mercury present in these instruments does not in itself constitute a risk of contamination since the metal is contained within a closed system. However, breakage, inadequate maintenance and disposal of such instruments can expose workers and the public to this toxic substance.
In this study, waste minimization issues associated with replacing these mercury-laden instruments with non- and less-hazardous devices are addressed. These include institutional program available to support this effort, the hazards grouped with mercury, and devices that use mercury. Life cycle management issues are also examined. Procedures and waste minimization processes used to remove the metallic mercury from an operation will be presented. A project in which mercury containing thermometers and manometers are systematically replace with less hazardous instruments is discussed. This project resulted in approximately 5 kilograms of mercury being removed from Radiological Controlled Areas during project, which represents the elimination of a potential liability of the generation of 100 m3 of Mixed Low-Level Waste in the future. As a final step, an approach to get buy-in from both technical and budget minded employees is presented. The elimination and substitution of hazardous materials in NMT Division is an ongoing process that starts during the design phase of a process or facility and continues through the performance of routine procedures.