All of the K-25 building would be demolished under a draft agreement issued by the U.S. Department of Energy last week, but a replica equipment building would be erected as part of a plan to honor the history of the massive uranium enrichment plant.
The replica building would have three stories and a basement, and it would display equipment used to enrich uranium through a process called gaseous diffusion.
The draft agreement, expected to be the last one after a decade of discussions, calls for preserving the K-25 “footprint” and possibly its concrete slab, building a viewing tower, and establishing a history center on the second floor of a nearby fire station.
In addition, a web-based virtual museum would be developed, and DOE would give $500,000 in grants to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance to buy and stabilize the dilapidated, historic Alexander Inn in central Oak Ridge. That project would help offset the loss of historic properties at the K-25 site, now renamed the East Tennessee Technology Park.
DOE estimates it could cost $17.5 million to carry out the plan.
Much of the mile-long, U-shaped K-25 building has already been torn down, but preservationists had lobbied for years to keep the North Tower. However, plans for doing so were estimated to cost as much as $60 million.
“With the limited resources we have, the best use would be to spend those resources on other things besides preserving the North Tower,” said David Bradshaw, president of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, during a May 17 meeting.
If it is approved, signatories to the final memorandum of agreement would include DOE, Tennessee State Historic Preservation Officer, and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Two other parties, the city of Oak Ridge and ETPA, have also been invited to sign the agreement, with signatures due by July 13.
The K-25 site was built during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, a federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons. The plant enriched uranium for the American nuclear industry for four decades before it was shut down in 1987.