Greening Oak Ridge: Addition By Subtraction


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You can make the world a greener place with energy-efficient buildings made of earth-friendly materials – but you can also do it by making a dirty building disappear. In this case, a very big, dirty building.

We’re talking here about the K-25 gaseous diffusion building, a remnant of the Manhattan Project as it played out in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Last week the DOE announced it had completed demolition of K-25, which went up in 1943, held the title of world’s largest building under one roof, and enriched uranium for the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, . The building had been sitting idle, deteriorating, for years, having ceased production of enriched uranium in 1964.

K=25 demolition

K-25 demolition, Oak Ridge, Tenn. (image via U.S. Department of Energy)

The DOE said the project, “considered among the highest priorities for the environmental cleanup program in Oak Ridge,” was completed by contractor URS/CH2M Oakridge (UCOR) more than a year ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget.

“Today marks a tremendous accomplishment for the American people – advancing our commitment to the safe and complete cleanup of former Manhattan Project sites.” Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said in a statement. “While there is still important clean-up work to do, completing the demolition of the K-25 gaseous diffusion building and doing so ahead of schedule and under budget is a testament to the outstanding Oak Ridge workforce.”

K-25 was a U-shaped building that had 1,640,000 square feet of floor space at the center of a complex that in 1997 was renamed the East Tennessee Technology Park. According to UCOR, the building contained “radioactive material and hazardous materials.”

Debris removal at the site is is expected to be completed sometime next spring. Plans call for construction of facilities at the site that will commemorate the work that went on in K-25 and the many other building in the complex. There’s also hope of turning the site into a private industrial park.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.