OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Several generations of employees have worked at the former K-25 site, now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), supporting efforts to produce enriched uranium, and more recently, to clean up the site.
For some, the nation’s first uranium enrichment plant became a kind of “family business,” where fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and uncles worked side by side over seven decades.
Those who have worked at the site in recent years have witnessed dramatic changes as massive, contaminated structures and hundreds of associated buildings have come down. New job-creating businesses have moved to the site as it transforms to a private-sector industrial park.
This decades-long environmental cleanup effort was one of the largest projects conducted in the U.S., and it marks the first enrichment complex in the world that has been successfully removed.
Few employees have achieved the longevity of Janice Shannon, who celebrated her 50th year of employment at Oak Ridge in 2017. A long-time employee at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Shannon transferred to K-25, where she served as a field representative of the nuclear materials control and accountability organization.
“When it came time to begin tearing down the plant, there were hundreds of compressors, converters, and pipes with nuclear materials in them from past operations,” Shannon said. “Our job was precise accountability. [We] were responsible for keeping track and documenting the disposition of these materials and components.”
She added, “Working at K-25 has been the highlight of my career. I’m glad I was able to work here before the K-25 building was torn down."
The Youngest Visitor
At 2 ½ months old, while still in the arms of his mother, Louie Finley became the youngest person to receive a security badge as a visitor to K-25. His mother, Helen, a security clerk, took her son to work to show him off to coworkers.
“At the time, K-25 had strict security requirements, and no one could enter the site without a badge — even if you were a cute little baby,” Finley said.
Years later, he would return to the site as a full-time employee, launching a nearly 40-year career that ended with his retirement in 2013.
Inspecting the Pipes
Starting in 1964, Mo Beeler began a multi-decade career at K-25 that led him on a recurring, meandering tour of miles of piping that connected processes in the uranium enrichment plant.
“I was here when K-25 was operating, and I was here when they tore it down,” Beeler said. “I have personally sat on, crawled over, and inspected hundreds of miles of pipe. I’ve seen it all.”
An Apprentice Joins the Team
Nick Fletcher joined Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management cleanup contractor UCOR two years ago after completing training in the East Tennessee Apprenticeship Readiness Program, a UCOR and labor union joint effort that leads to employment opportunities at DOE sites for construction craft. Fletcher said he appreciates the record of achievement that was built before him at Oak Ridge.
“It’s amazing being out here and being part of this,” Fletcher said. “It’s exciting to see all these buildings coming down safely and continuing the legacy of those who were here before me.”
Four Years and Counting
Cleanup was well underway when Vincent Tomazewski, a senior industrial hygiene technician, started working at ETTP in 2016. While he arrived the same year the last of five historic uranium enrichment buildings was torn down, he has still seen many of the other contaminated and dilapidated facilities fall since then.
Tomazewski’s job is to ensure workers are protected from exposure to hazardous chemicals. His most memorable experience was being part of the demolition team for Building K-631, which had been used to withdraw gaseous depleted uranium from the enrichment cascade, convert it to liquid, and transfer it into transport cylinders. Now, Tomazewski is looking to the future.
“Vision 2020 is an important accomplishment,” he said. “If ETTP is properly remediated, it will allow us to get a lot more work in the future. There are decades of work remaining at ORNL and Y-12, enough to last through my entire career.”