Demolition finished on K-25’s North End

K-25 North End Demolition

Work crews demolish the last section of the North End of the historic K-25 Building in Oak Ridge on Wednesday. K-25 was built to enrich uranium during World War II and was once the world’s largest building under one roof.

Work crews demolished the last section of the North End of the historic K-25 Building in Oak Ridge on Wednesday morning.

Workers used a giant, orange demolition machine known as a high reach shear to bring down the four-story building, once the world’s largest under one roof. At times, the shear resembled a large dinosaur as its massive black jaws bit into the building’s 67-year-old skeleton.

Reporters, officials, and workers watched on a clear but chilly East Tennessee morning as the high reach shear sliced through vertical steel columns and tugged at horizontal beams. After about 20 minutes, the North End crashed to the ground. So did any dreams of preserving it that might have remained.

K-25 North End Demolition Ends

A high reach shear pulls the last section of the four-story North End to the ground on Wednesday. (Submitted photo)

The mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building was built to enrich uranium during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. Its gasesous diffusion operations shut down in 1964, and historic preservationists once lobbied to save its North End.

“It’s bittersweet for anyone who appreciates what the building and the people who worked inside it did to win the war,” said Mark Whitney, manager of environmental management, or EM, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to the American people to clean up the effects of the Cold War.”

Previous plans had called for the North End, which was at the bottom of the U, to be preserved for historic purposes. But an agreement signed in July 2012 by federal, state, and local historic preservation groups allowed for the entire building to be demolished, including the North End, while still commemorating the historic significance of the site.

K-25 Building

Now mostly demolished, the mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building is pictured above. The North Tower, which historic preservationists had lobbied to save for years, is in the center background. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)

Among other things, that agreement called for a replica equipment building and viewing tower, proposed a history center at a nearby city-owned fire station, and provided a $500,000 grant for the vacant, run-down Alexander Inn in central Oak Ridge.

“Unfortunately, the tower (the North End) was too deteriorated to be able to refurbish it,” said Leo Sain, president and project manager for UCOR, DOE’s cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge. He said DOE worked “tirelessly and diligently” for about seven years to help the interested parties reach the agreement signed last year.

The K-25 Building demolition project is the largest in DOE’s EM program. The project has an approved value of up to $1.4 billion, although federal officials said the total cost—including expenses for maintenance, repairs, and security patrols dating back to the mid-1980s—could come in under budget at roughly $1.1 billion.

Mark Whitney at K-25

Mark Whitney, manager of environmental management for the U.S. Department of Energy in Oak Ridge, said the demolition of the last section of the North End of the K-25 Building was “bittersweet.” Whitney is pictured in front of a section of the remaining six units of K-25’s east wing.

Demolition of K-25’s north, west, and east wings is now complete, except for a small section of the east wing that has technetium-99, or Tc-99, a slow-decaying radioactive material. The North End demolition started in October.

Whitney said demolition of the remaining six units in the east wing could start in September and be complete by 2015.

About 350 workers have been involved in the K-25 Building demolition project, which started in December 2008 under Bechtel Jacobs Co. LLC, DOE’s former cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge. UCOR began working at the K-25 site, now known as East Tennessee Technology Park, in August 2011.

More than 15,000 loads of debris have been shipped from the K-25 Building. Most of the debris will be hauled to the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility on Bear Creek Road in Oak Ridge, but materials contaminated with technetium-99 could be shipped out west, Whitney said.

Leo Sain at K-25

Leo Sain, president and project manager for cleanup contractor UCOR, said K-25 helped the United States win the Cold War.

James D. Kopotic, federal project director in DOE’s Oak Ridge Office, said construction on the 44-acre K-25 Building started in November 1943 and was finished in August 1945, about the time World War II ended. The K-25 site was used to enrich uranium for commercial use after the war. K-25 also worked with sites in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Paducah, Ky., to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

“K-25 played a vital role in the Cold War, helped the nation win the Cold War,” Sain said. “It is is important to the entire nation.”

The 65-foot-high, 54-unit K-25 Building was once filled with converters, pipes, and huge compressors. It was one of five uranium-enriching buildings at the site. The others were K-27, K-29, K-31, and K-33.

UCOR K-25 Demolition Team

The UCOR K-25 demolition team is pictured above. (Submitted photo)

Also referred to as Heritage Center, the site itself was shut down in the mid-1980s, and it is slowly being converted into a massive industrial park. More than half of the buildings there—or 344 of 500 of them—have been demolished, and 700 acres have been transferred to the nonprofit Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, Kopotic said.

K-33, the second-largest building at the site, was demolished about a year ago using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus act.

Whitney said demolition work on K-27, which is southwest of K-25, could start in 2014 and be complete by 2016.


Join the club!

If you support Oak Ridge Today, please consider becoming a voluntary subscriber. You don't have to subscribe to read our stories, but your contribution will help us grow and improve our coverage.

We currently offer three subscription levels: $5, $10, or $25 per month. We accept payments through PayPal. You may also visit our subscription page for information on other options.

Thank you for your support.

Subscription options

Commenting Guidelines

We welcome comments, but we ask you to follow a few guidelines:

1) Please use your real name, including last name. Please also use a valid e-mail address. We do our best to confirm identities. If we are unable to confirm your identity or your comments don't appear to be posted using a real, full name, your comments may not post or may be removed.
2) Be civil. Don't insult others, attack their character, or get personal.
3) Stick to the issues.
4) No profanity.
5) Keep your comments to a reasonable length and to a reasonable number per article.

We reserve the right to remove any comments that violate these guidelines. Comments from readers posting for the first time may be held for review, and they will not be posted if they violate the guidelines. We urge you to do your best to follow the guidelines if you would like to see your comment posted. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

More information is available here.

  • edro3111

    Wow. What memories. I’m retired now but myself and hundreds of others crawled, climbed and walked over every square inch of that building over the years before and after it’s shutdown. It was a grand feeling knowing that you were walking inside history but the most amazing thing was realizing that the building that was once the largest on earth was built in such a short time and put on line to help end a terrible war. I salute all my fellow workers from years past and those before us who built and ran this amazing piece of engineering work. It’s REALLY something to tell the grandkids about!

More Business News

More Business

More Community News

More Community

More Education News

More Education

More Government News

More Government

More Police and Fire News

Oak Ridge Today

THP: Man injured in December crash dies

Note: This story was updated at 2:41 p.m. Jan. 18. A man injured in a late December accident on Interstate 40 in Roane County died from his injuries, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The crash happened on … [Read More...]

More Police and Fire

More U.S. Department of Energy News

More DOE

More 2014 Election News

More 2014 Election

More Entertainment News

More Entertainment

More Obituaries

David Justus Johnson Jr.

Obituary: David Justus Johnson Jr.

David Justus Johnson Jr., age 93, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, passed away on December 20, 2014, after a brief illness and a long life. David was born in Chicago, Illinois, and graduated from Armour Tech (Illinois … [Read More...]

Mitchell Jerry Davis

Obituary: Mitchell Jerry Davis

Mitchell Jerry Davis, age 57, of Clinton, passed away Tuesday, December 16, at Methodist Medical Center. He was born April 13, 1957, in Oliver Springs, the son of Charles Perry Davis and Louise Echols Davis. Mr. … [Read More...]

Oak Ridge Today

Obituary: Ruth Slusher

Ruth Slusher passed away Friday, December 5. She was born in Pineville, Kentucky, in 1925. She was later a resident of Rhea County, where she owned a home on Watts Barr Lake and also in Oak Ridge. She was … [Read More...]

Oak Ridge Today

Obituary: J.D. Campbell

J. D. Campbell, age 87, a resident of Oliver Springs, passed away Friday, December 12, at Methodist Medical Center. Mr. Campbell was born October 18, 1927, in the Wheat Community in Roane County. He lived in Georgia … [Read More...]

More Obituaries

More Opinion

More Opinion

More Sports News

Oak Ridge Wildcats Geevantay Gee and Powell Panthers Cropped

Photos: Wildcats blow out Powell 85-44

  All 12 Wildcats scored, and four Oak Ridge players finished in double digits during a 85-44 blowout win at Powell on Friday night. The Panthers were shorthanded, playing without three injured starters. It … [Read More...]

More Sports