K-27 demolition moves ahead furiously; preparations underway for other Cold War facilities

Poplar Creek MapAerial view with some of the Poplar Creek Facilities in the foreground. Below is recent photo of K-27 demolition. (DOE/Lynn Freeny)

The post-Cold War cleanup is proceeding at a furious pace at an Oak Ridge site once home to the nation’s largest uranium-enrichment complex.26504269220_6547c787a4_k

With K-27, the last of five gaseous diffusion plants, coming down quicker than expected and likely to be demolished before the year-end target date, the U.S. Department of Energy has started making preparations to tear down a bunch of other old buildings that once supported the nuclear program.

URS-CH2M Oak Ridge, DOE’s cleanup manager, has taken advantage of favorable weather conditions to accelerate the demolition of K-27, which ceased operations in 1964. The four-story, 383,000-square foot building is highly contaminated and equally deteriorated.

A couple of billion dollars has already been spent on cleanup of the former uranium processing complex, with the biggest price tag associated with tearing down K-25 — the original uranium-enrichment plant that was a mile long in the shape of a U. It took much longer to tear down K-25 than it did to construct it during the World War II Manhattan Project, when it was the world’s largest building under one roof.

Deactivating and demolishing K-27, its sister facility, is expected to cost about $292 million, and bringing it to the ground will be a major accomplishment, perhaps by late summer.

But a number of surrounding buildings, known collectively as the Poplar Creek Facilities, will pose their own challenges.

Some of these smaller buildings date back to the 1940s, performing missions that supported the processing of gaseous uranium hexafluoride to separate the fissionable U-235 isotope needed for weapons and reactors.

All told, there are 10 “significant” buildings that need to be torn down, along with “tie lines” that once connected the various operations.

Ben Williams, a spokesman at DOE’s Office of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge, said the estimated cost of demolishing the Poplar Creek Facilities is about $74 million.

Most of the demolition debris will be sent to an Oak Ridge landfill that is specially designated for hazardous and radioactive materials generated by DOE’s cleanup projects.

However, a “small portion” will likely be shipped off-site because of the levels of radioactive uranium or technetium, Williams said. He didn’t specify the site, but similar wastes have been sent to DOE’s Nevada National Security Site in the past.

Anne Smith, a spokeswoman for UCOR, said the old facilities are highly deteriorated.

“The Poplar Creek work is ongoing, and building demolition will take place through the end of the UCOR contract in 2020,” she said.

The facilities are located north and west of K-27 and were originally built to support activities at K-27 and the former K-29 plant, which has already been demolished and cleaned up.

Here’s a description of the Poplar Creek Facilities:
K-131 — It was built in 1945 to purify the uranium-hexafluoride feed to K-27. The building has five floors, including a basement and “penthouse.” The K-131 purification process was relocated to another facility in 1954, according to UCOR. The building was operated as a feed facility from 1948-1955 and then “repurposed” in 1956 as a maintenance shop and a valve repair shop. It was shut down in 1985.

K-631 — This two-story building in the shape of a cross was constructed in 1945 and operated until 1962 as a “tails” withdrawal facility. It extracted process gas depleted of fissionable uranium isotopes. K-631 was converted to a fluorine-treatment facility in 1970, and it was shut down in 1985.

K-633 — This steel-framed, asbestos-paneled building was constructed in 1954 and includes two high bays and several “attached” rooms. It was used as a test facility for process gas equipment. K-633 was shut down in 1985, when gaseous diffusion operations at the Oak Ridge site were halted.

K-1232 — The two-story building, along with auxiliary support facilities, was built in 1976 and used for chemical recovery operations for nonfissile materials. It was modified in 1983 for use in neutralizing and treating waste products from the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

K-832 — This building was used as a recirculating water pump house. It has a concrete frame and concrete exterior walls, as well as a substructure with two concrete channels about 30 feet wide and 20 feet deep. It was shut down in 1985.

K-832-H-Cooling Tower — Operations began in 1945, but the original 14-cell tower was replaced in 1985 by a five-cell tower. The old cells were demolished at that time, and the new ones only operated a short time.

K-1203 — This facility housed the plant’s sanitary sewage treatment. It consisted of a biological treatment system, lift stations, sedimentation basins, filtration and processing of sludges, according to UCOR. It was shut down in 2008.

K1314-G, H and J — These facilities were used for refurbishment of cylinders that stored uranium hexafluoride. The complex consisted of three 40 foot-by-80 foot metal buildings with HEPA ventilation systems attached. The three buildings contained “sand blasting and painting processes” that were used to refurbish the containers.

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