OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – A facility that will highlight the history of the K-25 Building from a new vantage point is a step closer to reality through a newly formed partnership between DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
The two entities are working together to construct the K-25 Viewing Platform adjacent to the K-25 History Center and provide visitors a complete view of the historic building’s 44-acre footprint. The agreement also calls for installing 12 wayside exhibits around K-25’s footprint.
Construction of the viewing platform and wayside exhibits are the final components of a multi-project agreement OREM signed in 2012 to commemorate the history of the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, where K-25 was located. That agreement resulted in the construction of the K-25 History Center, which opened in 2020, and the issuance of a grant to preserve the historic Alexander Inn.
“We are grateful for the emergence of this new partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that allows us to move forward on this project,” OREM Acting Manager Laura Wilkerson said. “The community has been excited about the idea of this facility, and we are looking forward to fulfilling our commitment through the assistance and special skills the Corps provides.”
The design for the K-25 Viewing Platform and wayside exhibits is expected to be finalized in March. USACE will then put the project out for bid and will manage the selected construction subcontractor for the project. Construction is set to begin by this fall, with the viewing platform to be completed by the end of 2023.
"We value our continued partnership with the Department of Energy and look forward to managing this construction project," said Lt. Col. Joseph Sahl, USACE Nashville District commander. "The Nashville District was involved with the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge between 1943 and 1945, so we are excited to be part of this project that draws attention to a larger national historic preservation effort to commemorate the importance of the historic K-25 building."
While the K-25 History Center focuses on the men and women who built and operated the Oak Ridge Diffusion Plant during the Manhattan Project and Cold War, the viewing platform and associated exhibits will help visitors understand the scope and magnitude of the site while they learn about the personal stories of the workforce.
Building K-25 was the largest structure in the world at the time of its construction in 1944. Its mission was to help end a global war by producing uranium for the world’s first nuclear weapon. Despite the building’s massive size and important mission, it was kept secret. The public would not learn about K-25 until the end of World War II.
Uranium enrichment operations ceased in 1985, and the site was permanently shut down in 1987. Afterward, DOE launched an environmental cleanup to transform the site into a multi-use industrial park for the community. That effort involved tearing down five massive enrichment facilities, including K-25, and 500 other structures that supported operations at the site. OREM and cleanup contractor UCOR completed that project — the largest-ever DOE cleanup project — under budget and ahead of schedule.
“UCOR shares the Department’s commitment to historic preservation. We are proud that our efforts helped facilitate the agreement between DOE and USACE, and that cleanup operations at the site have enabled these commemorative facilities,” said UCOR President and CEO Ken Rueter. “This viewing platform is the product of a lot of hard work and collaboration to achieve the common goal of honoring the brave men and women who built and worked at this historic site.”
Rueter noted that the commemorative facilities, and the site cleanup that enabled them, brings full circle a historic journey that began with the Manhattan Project, continued through the Cold War, and has culminated in transformation of the site.
Now called the East Tennessee Technology Park, the transformed site already has numerous private businesses onsite along with large conservation areas and a national park. The K-25 footprint is within the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service that contains sites in Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington state.
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