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Home Working with Section 106 ACHP Case Digest Fall 2003 Tennessee: Transfer of Ownership of the K-25 Nuclear Facility, Oak Ridge
Agency: U.S. Department of Energy
In the early 1940s, President Roosevelt authorized scientists to build a nuclear bomb based on intelligence that Germany was actively researching a similar weapon. The scientists produced enriched uranium for an atomic weapon at a facility known as K-25 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The K-25 facility, Oak Ridge, TN (photo courtesy of Sheila G. Thornton,U.S. Dept. of Energy)
The gaseous diffusion process building is one of eight facilities in the Manhattan Project, named after the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) Manhattan Engineer District, which operated the atomic bomb program during World War II. When it was completed in 1945, the 43-acre structure employed 12,000 workers, cost $500 million, and stood as the worlds largest buildingeven larger than the Pentagon.
By1985, K-25 was no longer used to produce uranium, and DoE closed the facility two years later. In 1999, DoE designated the eight historic nuclear facilities, including K-25, as signature facilities that represent the Manhattan Project. Other signature facilities include those in Los Alamos and Alamo-gordo, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington.
The building, which costs millions of dollars to maintain annually, cannot be restored or preserved economically because of its massive size, radiological contamination, and deteriorating physical condition.
DoE plans to demolish the building and turn the land and some of the equipment over to the City of Oak Ridges East Tennessee Technology Park, a public-private research partnership. Because the facility presents health, safety, and security issues, much of the historic equipment in the building will be dismantled to remove hazardous chemical and radiological contamination.
Over the past several years, ACHP members visited K-25 and the ACHP convened a panel of experts under an interagency agreement with DoE. The panel evaluated how to effectively manage the signature facilities, and offered advice on interpreting the Manhattan Project legacy for future generations.
Former ACHP chairman Cathryn Slater submitted the panels findings to Secretary of Energy Spenser Abraham, who said he appreciated the realistic perspective the panel members brought to the evaluation of the Manhattan Project facilities.
In July 2003, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed by DoE, the ACHP, and the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for the reuse of K-25 by the East Tennessee Technology Park. Groups that assisted in developing the agreement include the City of Oak Ridge, the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association, the Oak Ridge Reservation Local Oversight Committee, and the Oak Ridge Site-Specific Advisory Board.
Representing more than five years of consultation, the agreement ensures that the historic values and components associated with K-25 will be considered during the buildings clean-up and transfer.
The agreement calls for the aid of a professional consulting firm to present the significance of the facility through science and history education initiatives, and it includes the potential for heritage tourism opportunities.
The firm will also provide ideas to interpret the Roosevelt Cell, a gaseous diffusion cell illustrating the uranium enrichment process that was prepared for a visit by President Roosevelt, who died before he could make the trip.
The ACHP and the SHPO will assist DoE in evaluating preservation proposals
and interpreting the K-25 facility.
Staff contact: Tom McCulloch
Posted October 30, 2003
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