That Was Then

The K-25 gaseous diffusion facility at Oak Ridge is being demolished.

It's one more of the Manhattan Project facilities that is outdated and contaminated. But it's also historic, so part of it will be preserved museum-fashion. I'd like to see that; heck, I'd like to have a piece of the diffusion barrier encased in lucite to put next to my piece of graphite from Enrico Fermi's first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, but barrier material is probably still classified.

On my first visit to Oak Ridge, the plane approached Knoxville over K-25. The building went on and on and on, one of the impressive engineering feats of the Manhattan Project, built in a year or so. Later I got to see the inside: enormous piping, repeated over and over, the repetition a necessary part of separating atoms with only three neutrons diffference in mass. But the building is old and, in this day of centrifuge isotope separation, no longer needed. Those acres of land can be used for other things.

Another part of K-25 and the Manhattan Project that seems to have become outdated is the management structure. DuPont and other industrial firms, which had business other than contracting to the government, agreed to manage Manhattan Project facilities like K-25 and the Hanford reactors for a fee of $1 a year. Yes, that's one dollar, a token of their patriotism.

Not so much any more. Even the demolition of K-25 is subject to today's cost plus contracting. The management fees have risen just a bit. And it's not just at Oak Ridge.


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