Demolition now complete on four of five gaseous diffusion buildings
Demolition of the large K-31 Building in west Oak Ridge means that 200 acres of flat land are now available for industrial development at East Tennessee Technology Park, officials said.
“It’s the largest parcel of land available at ETTP,” said Sue Cange, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.
Infrastructure is already in place, including water, sewer, roads, and electricity, Cange said. Also, ETTP is close to Interstate 40, a short rail line, and possibly an airport. (There are plans to build an airport at the site, which is also known as Heritage Center.)
K-31 is the fourth of five gaseous diffusion buildings demolished at ETTP. The site, which has also been known as K-25 and Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, was built during the Manhattan Project in World War II as part of a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic bombs. Officials say it helped to win the Cold War, enriching uranium for commercial nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons.
But operations ended in 1985, and the site was permanently shut down in 1987. DOE then began cleanup operations and—with the help of contractors, a nonprofit organization, and others–is converting it into a large private industrial park.
The cleanup work includes demolition of many of the buildings at the site. Cange said there were once about 500 buildings at ETTP, but 380 of them have been demolished. That includes the former mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building, which was also used to enrich uranium and was once the world’s largest building under one roof.
“We are in the home stretch,” Cange said at a Friday morning ceremony celebrating the completion of demolition at the K-31 Building.
K-31 was a 750,000-square-foot building on 17 acres, and it began operating in 1951. As part of a cleanup project in 2005, most of the hazardous materials were removed from the building, leaving its shell to be demolished. UCOR, DOE’s cleanup contractor for the Oak Ridge Reservation, began demolishing the building last October and completed demolition almost four months ahead of schedule and about $4 million under budget.
“Bringing down K-31 ahead of schedule is a tremendous achievement,” said Ken Rueter, UCOR president and project manager. “Even though it had been largely decontaminated earlier, bringing down a facility of this size and disposing of the resulting debris is not a simple task. With a lot of cooperation among DOE, UCOR, and our labor partners, we were able to safely complete this demolition project and help move DOE one step closer to privatizing the ETTP site.”
Besides K-25 and K-31, the other two gaseous diffusion buildings that have been demolished are K-29 and K-33. The K-31 parcel is next to the K-33 site.
K-27 is the last remaining gaseous diffusion building. Officials said UCOR is currently deactivating the 383,000-square-foot facility to prepare it for demolition. A DOE initiative named Vision 2016 calls for having all gaseous diffusion facilities removed from ETTP by 2016. Cange said demolition work could start on K-27 in early 2016 and be complete by the end of the year.
Preparation work at K-27 includes removing hazards and deactivating it. The building was not properly shut down in the 1980s, so there is still some enriched uranium inside it, Cange said.
The combined cost for decommissioning and demolishing the K-25, K-29, K-31, and K-33 gaseous diffusion buildings is about $1.5 billion, according to the DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. Federal officials have approved a $292 million baseline to complete the K-27 project. Of that total, about two thirds will fund pre-demolition activities, and a third will fund the facility’s demolition.
Officials—including Cange, Rueter, and Mark Whitney, acting DOE assistant secretary for environmental management—said the K-31 demolition was completed safely.
“We have a tremendously talented workforce that is driving work forward and an excellent partnership with our cleanup contractor UCOR,” Cange said. “Together, we are safely and efficiently transforming ETTP and making clean land available for future reuse.”
Roughly 85 percent to 90 percent of the K-31 waste, which included steel and concrete, was hauled to the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility on Bear Creek Road west of the Y-12 National Security Complex.
There were no significant issues, Rueter said.
“It went very smooth,” he said.
He and others cited initiatives that have helped save money. For example, Jeff Tucker, D&D manager for UCOR, said officials were previously paying $185,000 per month to rent a high-reach machine used in the demolition work at Heritage Center. That machine came with an operator.
But he learned of an unused high-reach machine at a DOE site in Hanford, Washington. It had been purchased with funds available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (often referred to as “stimulus” money), but was later considered excess equipment by DOE.
Crews were able to ship it to Oak Ridge for $250,000. UCOR doesn’t pay rent on it, meaning the machine paid for itself within two months, Tucker said. It’s been used at ETTP since 2012 and helped with the demolition of K-31 and the north end of K-25, and it will be used at K-27.
The Hitachi 1200 excavator has a Jewell high-reach attachment with a 95-foot reach. Its shear head can be used to bend and cut through steel, including beams high above the ground.
Officials have also cited previous cost savings at ETTP. They said the K-25 Building demolition was completed $300 million under budget and 1.5 years ahead of schedule. That’s allowed workers and officials to use a “bridging concept,” where they transition the workforce and crews from one project to the next.
In October, Cange said DOE and UCOR have “established a model partnership that is allowing us to maintain momentum, complete additional cleanup work, and retain skilled workers.”
UCOR prepared K-31 for demolition in the summer of 2014 by conducting asbestos abatement, removing the facility’s exterior transite paneling, disconnecting the building’s power sources, and completing pollution prevention efforts, such as filling interior and exterior storm drains.
“Removal of K-31, and afterward K-27, will eliminate a nuclear hazard and open up more ETTP property for reindustrialization and regional economic development,” Rueter said last fall.
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