First-ever cleanup of uranium enrichment plant celebrated at Oak Ridge

October 20, 2020, 2:57PMRadwaste Solutions

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette speaks during an October 13 celebration marking the completion of the cleanup of Oak Ridge’s East Tennessee Technology Park.

The completion of the decades-long effort to clean up the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant was celebrated on October 13, with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette joining U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, and other state and community leaders at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), where the uranium enrichment complex once stood.

“We are not only celebrating reaching this achievement, but also how this achievement will impact the future of this region moving forward,” Brouillette said. “We turned what was once an expensive government liability that presented risks to the community into an asset that the community can use to usher in new growth for East Tennessee.”

Vision 2020: The Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) and its cleanup contractor, UCOR, are marking the realization of Vision 2020, OREM’s goal of completing major environmental cleanup of the ETTP by the end of 2020. Innovations in the handling, transporting, and disposing of waste made most of the savings to cost and schedule possible, the DOE said.

The ETTP was originally known as the K-25 Site. It was built in secrecy in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project to provide enriched uranium for the world’s first atomic weapon. After the war, the site, renamed the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, was expanded, and new buildings were constructed to produce enriched uranium for defense and commercial purposes and later to explore new enrichment technologies. Those operations continued until the mid-1980s, and the site was shut down permanently in 1987.

Decontamination and decommissioning of the plant began in the early 2000s and involved removing more than 500 deteriorated and contaminated buildings that could span the footprint of 225 football fields. As land and buildings were remediated, the site was transitioned into an industrial park, the ETTP, for use by private companies.

Quotes: “This is the first time in the world an entire uranium enrichment complex has been taken down," Alexander said. “The Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management and its contractor, UCOR, completed this work four years ahead of schedule, saving taxpayers $80 million in estimated cleanup costs and $500 million in environmental liabilities. This is truly a model of how to successfully clean up Department of Energy sites.”

Fleischmann added, “I applaud the DOE’s Environmental Management program and the thousands of East Tennesseans that have worked for years to make today a reality. The realization of Vision 2020—the completion of cleanup operations at the East Tennessee Technology Park, now the Heritage Center—is a tremendous milestone for nuclear cleanup in the state, as well as in the country.”

Historical importance: Earlier this year, the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management completed construction on the K-25 History Center. Future plans include the construction of additional facilities to educate visitors about the site’s Manhattan Project and Cold War operations. The foundation of the mile-long K-25 Building, once the largest building in the world, is now part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. With the accompanying history center, the site’s legacy is preserved for future generations.

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