Office of Environmental Management

Oak Ridge Finds Ways to Remove K-25 Faster, Cheaper

February 1, 2012

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — K-25, once the world’s largest building under one roof, reflects less of its former title every day. Due to the partnership between the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) cleanup team and Oak Ridge’s prime environmental management contractor, URS | CH2M Oak Ridge, LLC (UCOR), the 44-acre, multi-level uranium-enrichment superstructure is in the advanced stages of demolition.

Built as part of World War II’s Manhattan Project at what is now known as the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), K-25 housed the world’s first gaseous diffusion plant for enriching uranium. The building, with its thousands of converters and miles of process piping, produced enriched uranium for weapons through 1964 and reactor fuel until 1985. DOE permanently closed the facility in 1987.

Demolition of the west wing is complete, and work crews are removing the east wing more rapidly than anticipated. In all, about 34 percent of the entire 796,000-square-foot K-25 structure is already down, and the team is on track to have 60 percent of the total demolition completed by the end of September 2012. The entire K-25 project is scheduled for completion in July 2014.

Jim Kopotic, the federal project director for the project, says a collaborative atmosphere and creative practices in the field contribute to the accelerated progress. “Members of the K-25 team are very united in their commitment to this project,” he said. “This commitment leads the team to continuously search for savings and efficiencies to push our work forward.”

One of those creative solutions included borrowing demolition equipment from another EM cleanup site. Oak Ridge received news that the Savannah River Site (SRS) had a Caterpillar 385C, one of the company’s largest excavators, which costs $58,000 per month to rent. SRS allowed Oak Ridge to use the equipment rent-free, excluding transportation costs, for two years. The arrangement will accumulate $1.4 million in savings.

The K-25 project team also created savings by altering waste transportation practices. For example, employees use a practice called “hot seating.” The process allows drivers with high-level security clearances to drive waste to the security gate where alternate drivers complete shipment to the disposal area. The drivers with the higher clearances then return empty trucks to the cleanup area for loading. Hot seating limits the costly use of drivers with high-level clearances, which can be costly, and maintains the transportation schedule while other clearances are pending. In addition, trucks were modified to fit three converters per truck, instead of two. With more than 200 shipments per week, the change saves money and accelerates disposal.

“The credit for this progress goes to our federal and contractor staff in the field who are determined to complete this project as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Kopotic. “Our team understands that many of the site’s other cleanup projects are contingent on our success and advancement.”

While progress continues on the K-25 project, EM continues to plan and execute other crucial cleanup projects at ETTP and throughout the 34,000-acre Oak Ridge Reservation.