Demolition started Monday on K-27, the last of the big five uranium-enriching buildings at the former K-25 site, and officials expect the work to be complete by the end of the year.
The five buildings—K-25, K-27, K-29, K-31, and K-33—once used a process called gaseous diffusion to enrich uranium for atomic weapons and commercial nuclear power plants. Officials credit them for helping to win World War II and end the Cold War, and for playing significant roles in technological developments and the nuclear industry.
The K-25 site, which is now known as East Tennessee Technology Park or Heritage Center, was built during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first nuclear weapons. The site is now slowly being converted into a large industrial park.
“The majority of the property will be reused,” said Ken Rueter, president and project manager for UCOR, or URS |CH2M Oak Ridge LLC, the U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge.
Completion of the K-27 demolition work by the end of the year is part of DOE’s Vision 2016, which calls for the removal of all gaseous diffusion buildings from the site by the end of the year.
Demolition of the four-story, 383,000-square-foot K-27 Building remains one of the highest cleanup priorities for DOE’s Environmental Management, or EM, program, officials said. When the K-27 work is complete, it will mark the first-ever demolition and cleanup of a gaseous diffusion complex anywhere.
“This is a momentous day for the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, and we’re excited to achieve the milestone of starting demolition of K-27,” said Sue Cange, manager of the DOE-EM Oak Ridge Office. “A tremendous amount of work has occurred during the past two years to get us to this point, so this is a culmination of a lot of hard work done by the talented workers who support our environmental cleanup mission.”
UCOR completed deactivation of K-27, which was built in the 1940s in partnership with K-25, in January. Deactivation included removing hazardous and radioactive materials to ensure protection of workers, the public, and the environment; isolating utility systems; and ensuring structural stability.
All materials that could cause a nuclear criticality were removed, which has allowed DOE to complete one of the final key steps before demolition—declaring that the building is in a Criticality Incredible status.
“Demolition of K-27 is significant in that it completes the first-ever cleanup of a complete gaseous diffusion complex anywhere in the world,” said Ken Rueter, UCOR president and project manager. “It also adds to the inventory of clean land that can be made available for economic development purposes. In place of these outdated facilities, we will eventually see flourishing industries with many workers.”
Rueter said high-risk equipment has been removed from all nine units of the K-27 Building. There has been a three-step process: hazard abatement, which was aimed at industrial chemicals like asbestos, lead, and arsenic; criticality safety, which included removing uranium-laden equipment; and removing other radionuclides, such as technetium 99.
Rueter said the demolition work will probably proceed at the same pace as it did toward the end of the K-25 Building demolition: about one unit per month.
An exhaustive stormwater prevention plan has been developed, and the entire K-27 Building has been surrounded by a lined gravel dike, with UCOR managing all stormwater, Rueter said.
Teardown of the K-27 Building follows the successful demolition of four other uranium enrichment process buildings, including K-29, K-33, K-31, and the mile-long, U-shaped K-25 building. All of those facilities once produced highly enriched uranium for national defense and commercial energy production.
That’s more than 60 acres worth of high-hazard buildings that contained highly classified, high-security equipment and processes in millions and millions of square feet, Rueter said.
“I don’t think anyone ever thought that would be possible,” he said.
Most important to them, officials said, is that all the work at ETTP has been done safely. Workers at the site have accrued five million hours without a lost time accident. In 2015, UCOR was awarded Star status in DOE’s Voluntary Protection Program, an achievement that recognizes the safest sites in the nation.
About 400 workers were involved in the deactivation of K-27, and roughly 15o to 200 employees will help demolish it, Rueter said. Most of those workers will be in waste packaging. Off-site waste has been already been shipped to a Nevada landfill, and the remaining debris will be trucked to the Environmental Management Waste Management Facility on Bear Creek Road west of the Y-12 National Security Complex. Much of the debris is expected to be steel, brick, and concrete rubble.
Officials expect a total of some 10,000 truckloads of waste from the K-27 Building, which occupies more than 10 acres. The K-27 Building is different than K-31, the last building that was demolished, because of its brick wraparound exterior.
Operations at the former K-25 site ended in 1985, and the site was permanently shut down in 1987. Last June, Cange said there were once about 500 buildings at ETTP, but 380 of them had been demolished. That included the K-25 Building, which was once the world’s largest building under one roof.
At that time, federal officials said the combined cost for decommissioning and demolishing the K-25, K-29, K-31, and K-33 gaseous diffusion buildings was about $1.5 billion, and a $292 million baseline had been approved to complete the K-27 project. Of that total, about two thirds was expected to fund pre-demolition activities, and a third would fund the building’s demolition.
The former K-25 site has also been known as Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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