The U.S. Department of Energy is requesting more time to complete projects to commemorate the historic contributions of the former K-25 site in west Oak Ridge.
Built during World War II, the K-25 site helped enrich uranium for the first atomic bomb used in wartime as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. The plant continued to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons and commercial nuclear power plants after the war, and those who have worked at the site have said it helped win the Cold War.
The history of the site will be honored by preserving the concrete slab of the former K-25 Building, building a Viewing Tower and replica Equipment Building on the south side of the building site, and opening a K-25 History Center on the second floor of the adjacent Oak Ridge Fire Station Number 4.
A historical interpretation agreement was signed in August 2012. But it expires this August. And the roughly $20 million worth of projects won’t be complete by then.
DOE is making “good progress,” but “the reality is we need a little more time,” said Dave Adler, acting deputy manager for DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. Adler and Steve Cooke, K-25 preservation coordinator for DOE, briefly discussed the proposed amendment to the agreement during a Tuesday evening work session with the Oak Ridge City Council.
The Oak Ridge City Council could consider an amendment to the 2012 agreement in March.
The amended agreement could be in effect through 2024, but the new facilities could be open several years before then. The K-25 History Center, which is now under construction, could be open this fall. The other facilities could be open by 2021, Adler said.
The K-25 “footprint,” the area of the concrete slab, will be managed by the National Park Service. Oak Ridge is part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a relatively new park that also includes Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The adjacent K-25 History Center, Equipment Building, and Viewing Tower are being built under the National Historic Preservation Act. The 2012 agreement that called for these buildings was signed before the national park was created in 2015, but the projects are expected to be complementary.
The 2012 agreement allowed the complete demolition of the four-story, 44-acre K-25 Building. It allowed workers to demolish the North Tower at the K-25 Building, which historic preservationists had lobbied for years to save. In exchange for the complete demolition of K-25, the agreement called for the history center at the Oak Ridge fire station at K-25, 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 Building was once the world’s largest building under one roof. The mile-long, U-shaped building displaced the Pentagon as the world’s largest when it was completed in the 1940s.
After World War II, the K-25 Building and four other large buildings at the site continued to use a process known as gaseous diffusion to enrich uranium for atomic weapons and commercial nuclear power plants.
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 the History Center, Equipment Building, and Viewing Tower.
Oak Ridge Today reported in January that the design is complete and funding is available for the construction of the Equipment Building and Viewing Tower.
A request for proposals was issued in January, and an award could be made in May or June, officials said Tuesday.
In January, UCOR, the U.S. Department of Energy’s cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge, said construction could take two years.
The Equipment Building is expected to 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.
Most of the uranium used in “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb used in war, 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 was used in the second atomic bomb, code-named “Fat Man.”
But 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.
The K-25 site is now known as Heritage Center or East Tennessee Technology Park.
See previous story here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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