The design is complete and funding is available for the construction of an Equipment Building and Viewing Tower that will help commemorate the history of the K-25 Building, once the world’s largest building under one roof.
K-25 was built in Oak Ridge during World War II to help enrich uranium for the Manhattan Project. That was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons. During the war, Oak Ridge enriched the uranium for “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb used in wartime. “Little Boy” was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II.
After the war, the four-story, 44-acre K-25 Building and four other large buildings at the K-25 site continued to use a process known as gaseous diffusion to enrich uranium for atomic weapons and commercial nuclear power plants. Officials say the K-25 site, which is in west Oak Ridge, helped win the Cold War.
After decades of use, the K-25 site was shut down in the mid-1980s, and as part of a cleanup effort in recent years, the five large gaseous diffusion buildings have been demolished. But the history of the K-25 building and the site will live on in a History Center on the second floor of Oak Ridge Fire Station Number 4, which is next to K-25’s concrete slab, and at the Equipment Building and Viewing Tower, which will be just west of the History Center.
The History Center, Equipment Building, and Viewing Tower will be on the south side of the former K-25 Building. The site is now known as Heritage Center or East Tennessee Technology Park.
Officials preparing for the start of construction at the History Center celebrated with a ceremony in October 2017. The History Center is expected to be open and receiving visitors starting in the third quarter of this year.
Now, officials are preparing to release a request for proposals for the Equipment Building and Viewing Tower by the end of this month.
UCOR, the U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge, is currently evaluating pre-qualifications for companies interested in receiving that request for proposals, or RFP.
UCOR received several responses to a pre-qualification solicitation, spokesperson Michael Butler said in an emailed response to questions on Friday.
“We anticipate completing the evaluations in approximately two weeks,” Butler said.
“The request for proposals (RFP) is scheduled for release by the end of January,” Butler said. “The design for these structures is complete, and funding is available for construction, which is expected to take two years.”
The pre-qualification criteria say the Equipment Building will be a three-story steel and concrete structure with about 3,400 square feet on each floor. The building will provide a cross-section of the K-25 Building. It will display gaseous diffusion technology and share information about the plant’s operating conditions.
The Viewing Tower will be about 70 feet tall, and it will be immediately north of the Equipment Building. It will have an elevator that will take visitors to the top level of the tower, where a glass-walled viewing area of about 2,110 feet will provide a panoramic view of the site. Exhibits on the top level of the Viewing Tower will focus on the size, scope, and scale of K-25 and its supporting facilities. Visitors will exit the top level of the tower by stairs, pausing at each landing to view the Equipment Building and interact with exhibits. There will be restrooms and outdoor exhibits at the base of the Viewing Tower. There will also be a paved walking loop with historically relevant exhibits north of the Viewing Tower.
Preserving K-25’s history is part of an agreement signed in 2012. That agreement, made as part of the National Historic Preservation Act, allowed the complete demolition of the mile-long U-shaped K-25 Building after historic preservationists had lobbied to save part of it, the North Tower.
In exchange for the complete demolition of K-25, the agreement called for the history center at the fire station, the K-25 replica equipment building and viewing tower, an online virtual museum, and a $500,000 grant to buy and stabilize the historic Alexander Inn in central Oak Ridge, which has since been converted into an assisted living center.
The K-25 “footprint,” the concrete slab on which the large building once stood, is part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which was established in November 2015. The park is separate from the K-25 historic preservation work, but the two projects complement each other.
Most of the uranium used in “Little Boy” was enriched at Y-12, and all of it was processed at Y-12. But near the end of World War II, some of the enriched uranium came from K-25 and S-50, a thermal diffusion plant west of K-25, before being fed into beta calutrons at Y-12, which used electromagnetic separation to enrich uranium.
That other work is being commemorated as well. A few buildings at Y-12—Beta 3, a production building, and 9731, a pilot plant—are also part of the national park and so is the Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Y-12 facilities will commemorate the electromagnetic separation work, and the Graphite Reactor, the pilot facility for plutonium production, will commemorate the plutonium work. Plutonium from the Manhattan Project site in Hanford, Washington, fueled the second atomic bomb, “Fat Man,” which was dropped over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945.
However, there are still visitor access issues to work out at both ORNL and Y-12.
Oak Ridge, which was once known as Clinton Engineer Works, was the main production site for the Manhattan Project, and it included the three major federal sites: K-25; X-10, now Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Y-12, now the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Like Oak Ridge, Hanford is now part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. So is Los Alamos, New Mexico.
See the pre-qualification notice for the Equipment Building and Viewing Tower here.
See the pre-qualification criteria here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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