DOE, Army Corps of Engineers sign agreement to construct facility giving visitors new perspective on K-25

Source: US Army Corps of Engineers | Article | February 2, 2022 |

A new facility that will share the history of the K-25 Building from a new vantage point is one step closer to reality through a newly formed partnership between two government agencies.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) signed an interagency agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct the K-25 Viewing Platform. The new facility will be adjacent to the recently opened K-25 History Center and provide visitors a complete view of the building’s massive 44-acre footprint. The agreement also involves installing 12 wayside exhibits around K-25’s footprint.

The construction of this facility and the wayside exhibits are the final components of a multi-project agreement OREM signed in 2012 to commemorate the history of the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, where the K-25 Building was located. OREM completed the other elements in previous years, which included construction of the K-25 History Center and a grant to preserve the historic Alexander Inn.

“We are grateful for the emergence of this new partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that allows us to move forward on this project,” said OREM Acting Manager Laura Wilkerson. “The community has been excited about the idea of this facility, and we are looking forward to fulfilling our commitment through the assistance and special skills the Corps provides.”

USACE will begin by performing a constructability review of the design. Once that is completed and the design finalized—expected in March—USACE will put the project out for bid and will manage the selected construction subcontractor. Construction is expected to begin by this fall with the viewing platform completed by the end of 2023.

“We value our continued partnership with the Department of Energy and look forward to managing this construction project,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Sahl, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander. “The Nashville District was involved with the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge between 1943 and 1945, so we are excited to be part of this project that draws attention to a larger National Historic Preservation effort to commemorate the importance of the historic K-25 building.”

While the K-25 History Center focuses on the men and women who built and operated the Oak Ridge Diffusion Plant during the Manhattan Project and Cold War, this facility will help visitors understand the scope and magnitude of the site.

Originally constructed in 1944, Building K-25 was the largest structure in the world and carried an equally immense and important mission to help end a global war by producing uranium for the world’s first nuclear weapon. Yet despite its size and urgent work, the public would not learn of its existence in Oak Ridge until the end of World War II.

Uranium enrichment operations ceased in 1985, and the site was permanently shut down in 1987. Afterward, DOE committed to and began a massive environmental cleanup effort to transform the site into a multi-use industrial park for the community. That effort involved tearing down five massive enrichment facilities, including the K-25 Building, and 500 other structures that supported operations at the site.

OREM and its contractor UCOR completed demolition of the K-25 Building in 2013 and finished all demolition at the site in 2020. That accomplishment marked the first time in the world an enrichment complex has been taken down. OREM and UCOR completed the effort four years ahead of schedule saving taxpayers $500 million.

The transformed site, now called the East Tennessee Technology Park, already has numerous private businesses onsite along with large conservation areas and a national park. The K-25 Building footprint is within the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service that contains sites in Oak Ridge; Los Alamos, N.M.; and Hanford, Washington.

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