Aerial view of the east side of the East Tennessee Technology Park shows the K-1037 building (circled), which is scheduled for demolition. The building was the design and manufacturing center for the “barrier” used in gaseous diffusion plants to enrich uranium. Below, Mark Whitney, DOE’s deputy assistant secretary for environmental management, dresses out in protective gear before entering the K-1037 building during a visit to Oak Ridge earlier this month. (UCOR photos)
The biggest concern in cleaning up and tearing down K-1037 is not radioactive waste but rather the classified contents of the big building once used to produce “barrier” — a secret component of the gaseous diffusion technology used to separate isotopes of uranium for use in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors.
“The barrier is sintered nickel powder,” Mike Koentop, executive officer in DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, said in response to questions. “Any elaboration beyond that is classified.”
The principal hazards at K-1037 are “typical industrial wastes,” according to Anne Smith, a spokeswoman for UCOR, the Department of Energy’s cleanup manager in Oak Ridge.
“There are no significant radiological contaminants in the building,” Smith said.
The challenge will be dealing with all the classified equipment and material inside the 380,000-square-foot building on the east side of the East Tennessee Technology Park — a sprawling site that once housed the nation’s largest uranium-enrichment complex.
The decommissioning and demolition project is going to cost many millions of dollars, but the Department of Energy isn’t saying how much.
“We are still working through the process to determine what is going to be required to successfully complete the project, so we don’t have an accurate estimate at this point,” Mike Koentop, executive director of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management said.
There is still the potential for surprises.
“We’ve had crews in there for several months, characterizing the building,” Sue Cange, DOE’s cleanup chief in Oak Ridge, said recently following a tour of the site with Mark Whitney, a top official from DOE headquarters in Washington.
“We have started to consolidate and remove a lot of the combustible materials that have been stored in the building,” Cange said. “There’s a lot of excess personal protective equipment, file cabinets full of paper, just standard equipment and materials that have been in storage in the building for a long time.”
K-1037, like some of the other old and inactive buildings at the government’s Oak Ridge sites, was used as a sort of catch-all for stuff no longer needed.
Cange said she wanted Whitney to get an up-close look at the building so officials in Washington would understand the difficulties.
“All of the barrier production equipment is still in the building,” she said, “and of course the primary challenge that we have with that building is the classification concerns.”
The barrier technology is reportedly one of the most classified parts of the gaseous diffusion operations that the United States used to produce its stockpile of enriched uranium for the Cold War arsenal.
Those classification concerns will affect how DOE and its contractors deal with the equipment and how the building will be taken down.
“It’s got a lot of complexities,” Cange said.
The current schedule is for demolition of K-1037 in 2018, so that leaves two years for preparation, she said. It’s possible that the demolition activities could spill over in 2019, she said.
Asked if DOE planned to chop up the equipment to eliminate the classified aspects, Cange said that hasn’t been decided.
“We’re still working with the classification officers and with our headquarters to determine the appropriate approach for dealing with the building from a classification perspective.”
DOE’s Oak Ridge landfill for cleanup wastes is designed to accept classified materials, and Cange said the agency expects that at least some of the wastes — such as the building rubble — will be eligible for disposal there.
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