‘This may be more historic than you realize’

IMG_5377After more than two years of preparations, workers began tearing down the K-27 Building on Monday, and a flock of local dignitaries and news hounds turned out to witness the historic event.

K-27 is last of five gaseous diffusion plants that once formed the nation’s largest uranium-enrichment complex, producing fuel for nuclear reactors and providing key material for the Cold War arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates it will cost about $292 million to demolish K-27, a highly deteriorated uranium-enrichment plant that hasn’t operated since 1964.

Sue Cange, DOE’s cleanup manager in Oak Ridge, said she expects the job to be done by the end of the year — completing a series of demolition and cleanup activities known as Vision 2016.

URS-CH2M Oak Ridge is the contractor in charge of the project, and hundreds of workers contributed to the pre-demolition activities to help ensure safe operations — and control of pollution — during the tear down and removal of rubble from the site.

UCOR President Ken Rueter said demolition of K-27 will generate about 10,000 truckloads of contaminated rubble and debris.

Some of the higher-risk equipment, containing deposits of enriched uranium or significant levels of radioactive technetium-99, has already been removed from the four-story, 383,000-square-foot building and shipped to a government site in Nevada for disposal.

Bringing down K-27 is a mighty milestone, Cange said.

“This may be more historic than you realize,” she told the gathering, moment before the mega-sized shear began tearing through the building’s exterior.

This will mark the first time anywhere in the world that an entire uranium-enrichment complex has been deactivated and demolished, she said.

The five gaseous diffusion plants at Oak Ridge — highlighted by the mile-long, U-shaped K-25 plant — included 50 acres of high-hazard, high-security, highly classified facilities, Rueter said.
“In the end, we owe thanks to people who trusted us with the taxpayer dollars to do this work,” he said.

Cange said DOE’s national environmental program chose K-27 as one of its most important projects of 2016.

“We intend to deliver on our commitment to safely complete the demolition by the end of the year,” she said.

Officials praised the Knoxville Building Trades and Labor Council and the skilled crafts workers who reported to work in high-hazard environments, accumulating about 5.3 million safe hours.

Mike Koentop, executive officer of DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, said the K-27 cleanup team will apply lessons learned from the earlier demolition at K-25 — especially the unexpected migration of radioactive technetium-99 demolition site.

Contaminated groundwater infiltrated a sewage-treatment facility and required costly cleanup activities to extract the Tc-99 sludges and ship them to a commercial facility for treatment and disposal.

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