The following is a op-ed from UCOR CEO Ken Rueter that was featured in The Oak Ridger.
For the past eight years, I have had the privilege of serving my company, community, and ultimately the nation, by leading the monumental cleanup of the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, today known as the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP). Because we are in the home stretch of this important project, I have been reflecting on what this really means to our nation.
ETTP will be the first of the nation’s Secret City sites to reach cleanup completion. The vision that the Department of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and my team – UCOR, an AECOM-led partnership with Jacobs – have been working toward is the transformation of a once-contaminated government site into a multi-use community asset. More than 1,200 acres of land have been transferred for reuse. The revitalized site is home to new industry, historic landmarks, and conservation areas that honor the past while supporting the future development of the region.
Since 2011, UCOR has been DOE’s lead environmental cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge. Throughout our partnership, risk reduction has been front and center for DOE and UCOR, ensuring that we eliminate hazards for our workers, the public, and the environment. The massive cleanup effort challenged our team to perform safely in industry’s most hazardous settings.
We have completed the first-of-a-kind demolition of some of the world’s largest and most hazardous structures. It has taken a highly-skilled workforce to complete this work – in fact, this is the best and most skilled team with which I have ever worked. Our remarkable team addressed this project by introducing innovations to decommission and demolish these complex structures in a way that serves as a model for future cleanup.
This immense cleanup effort has resulted in significant risk reduction. To date, UCOR workers have safely demolished 5.5 million square feet of buildings and structures (DOE reports 12 million square feet total over the life of cleanup work). In addition, we have disposed of more than 28 million cubic feet of radiological, chemical, and industrial waste, which includes removing 2.9 million cubic feet of contaminated soil.
Over the last couple of months, UCOR completed demolition of two facilities on the critical path to final ETTP cleanup. Crews demolished Building K-1037 four months ahead of schedule. The 380,000-square-foot building was one of the largest and most challenging facilities still standing at ETTP. Building K-631 was also completely demolished, representing the completion of the Poplar Creek area facilities, which were the most contaminated structures remaining at the site.
During the next few months, crews will begin demolishing the final large-scale structures at ETTP. Demolition of remaining smaller structures will be completed between now and next summer.
Along with the environmental benefits to the region, our cleanup work has resulted in considerable positive impacts to Oak Ridge and the nation. Our performance has resulted in significant economic benefits, including a 54 percent increase in funding from $420 to 646 million annually – thanks to our Congressional leaders. This increase translates into more cleanup – and a 45 percent increase in jobs (from 1,248 to more than 1,800). Much of this success is due to our strong partnerships with DOE, labor, regulators, and the community in addition to strong support from our parent companies, AECOM and Jacobs.
We have worked to be a valuable community partner. Over the course of our contract, UCOR has significantly invested in the community. Local and regional organizations like the Emory Valley Center, United Way, and more have been the beneficiaries of more than $2.5 million in company donations as well as countless volunteer hours from our senior leaders and employees. In addition, we have invested in cultivating the workforce of tomorrow to help ensure that DOE has a pipeline of qualified workers for current and future cleanup work. UCOR bolstered the University of Tennessee’s School of Engineering by creating with the first decommissioning minor in the U.S. UCOR has also provided funding for new STEM education opportunities in local schools.
In all of our efforts, UCOR has worked diligently to remain investment-worthy and be a good steward of the funds Congress has given DOE for this important mission. UCOR has delivered $105 worth of work for every $100 spent. We have often finished projects ahead of schedule and under budget, which has overall accelerated cleanup by four years. This success has allowed us to pursue cleanup of excess contaminated facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex early, enabling risk reduction and growth for the critical science and national defense missions.
Our partnerships, our investment in the community, and our dedication to being a strong fiscal steward are all good news for every taxpayer, and ultimately the nation. These are positive measures of success in what many consider the most complex and hazardous nuclear cleanup operation of our time. We plan to continue leveraging these partnerships and investing in our community as we work to safely and successfully complete ETTP cleanup and perform cleanup across the DOE Oak Ridge Reservation, which will enable the National Nuclear Security Administration and the DOE Office of Science to successfully advance their important missions.