Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Sue Cange | July 25, 2015

This Hitachi high-reach excavator was excess equipment obtained from the Hanford, WA site, saving money on demolition work in Oak Ridge. (DOE photo by Lynn Freeny)

This Hitachi high-reach excavator was excess equipment obtained from the Hanford, WA site, saving money on demolition work in Oak Ridge. (DOE photo by Lynn Freeny)

The Manhattan Project, established in 1942 as a critical part of the effort to win World War II, ranks among the greatest examples of ingenuity and determination in American history.

In less than three years the Manhattan Project constructed hundreds of buildings in Oak Ridge, including some of the largest and most complex facilities in the world needed to process uranium for the war effort.

Seventy years later, those same buildings present another challenge. While many were permanently closed in the 1980s, their pipes and tanks are filled with hazardous materials.

For more than two decades at the U.S. Department of Energy, one of our priority goals has been the demolition of contaminated facilities and the safe storage of legacy materials associated with the Manhattan Project.

We have made enormous progress. Last month we celebrated the completion of the demolition — under budget and ahead of schedule — of the 750,000-square-foot K-31 building, one of approximately 500 buildings at the former K-25 site, now called the East Tennessee Technology Park. Approximately 80 percent of the cleanup is complete.

When the cleanup of the K-25 site is finished in five to seven years, we will have two goals.

The first is to provide the Oak Ridge region with one of the premier industrial parks in East Tennessee. The announcement last March by CVMR to bring more than 600 jobs to Oak Ridge is an encouraging sign of the park’s potential.

Our second goal is to shift cleanup efforts to the legacy materials, including mercury, located in the older buildings at the Y-12 Nuclear Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Both of these facilities spend millions of dollars on maintenance and security for buildings that need to be cleaned up and demolished.

In order to continue the cleanup without interruption, the Department of Energy will need to construct in Oak Ridge a new Waste Disposal Facility to replace the current facility, which will be full in the early 2020s.

Citizens can be confident that his facility will not be a “burial ground.” The structure, like the current facility, will be carefully engineered to protect the surrounding land and water from contamination.

Our community discussions about the proposed Waste Disposal Facility will focus on two messages.

Foremost, our commitment to safety will be the same as it has been with the current facility, which has experienced no incidents during its 14 years of operation.

Second, our decision must take into account the consequences of not building the new Waste Disposal Facility. The millions of dollars in additional costs required to transport waste out of state would likely come from the existing cleanup budget. The result would be a sharp reduction in funds available for actual cleanup activities and a greatly extended schedule — possibly by decades — until all contaminated sites in Oak Ridge can be finally clean.

As we continue to work with the Oak Ridge community, we are aware that the decision of whether to construct a new Waste Disposal Facility and sustain the momentum of our environmental cleanup is one of the most important facing the city’s future.

Sue Cange is the manager for the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.