OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — Federal and state leaders came to East Tennessee on Tuesday to commemorate a historic environmental cleanup milestone.
The Department of Energy (DOE) says Oak Ridge has become the first in the world to take down a former uranium enrichment site.
The U.S. DOE Secretary, Tennessee’s governor and other top officials were all in town for a special event to mark the accomplishment.
The site in Oak Ridge is known as the K-25 site. It was built in secret in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project, providing enriched uranium for the world’s first atomic weapon.
After decades of work, hundreds of old and contaminated buildings have now been removed.
“This is an incredibly important, great day for Oak Ridge and for all of the volunteer state,” Governor Bill Lee said.
“To put the scale of the building removal in perspective, the buildings that they have taken down could cover 225 football fields,” DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette said.
The work to remove these contaminated buildings – more than 500 of them – began in the early 2000s.
Years before that, in the 80s, the original K-25 site shut down permanently, leaving behind facilities with highly contaminated equipment.
“This is 20 years in the making here. We’ve spent about 4 and a half billion dollars on this project. This is the largest cleanup project the DOE to date has successfully accomplished,” said Jay Mullis, Manager of the DOE, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management.
Thousands of workers had a hand in the effort. That’s something not lost on Representative Chuck Fleischmann.
“To all of you all, this would not happen today but for your hard work, let’s give the workers another great round of applause,” Fleischmann said.
The DOE says the clean up makes way for 2,200 acres available for economic development and recreation.
Moving forward, that’s big news for state leaders.
“That is an enormous asset, especially in this region of the state,” Senator Lamar Alexander said.
“It creates an environment for more economic activity, for more companies to come here, for more jobs to be created in this community, for more lives to be changed by the economic activity that will be coming this way as a result of what’s been done here today,” Gov. Lee said.
Another point noted more than once – that this project finished ahead of schedule and under budget. Mullis said that equates to about $500 million in tax payer savings.