Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 24, 2008
By: Cheryl Rofer

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It's one more of the Manhattan Project facilities that is outdated and contaminated.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Another part of K-25 and the Manhattan Project that seems to have become outdated is the management structure.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.

Cheryl Rofer 8:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

D.A.L.

(destroy all liberals)

Posted by: pud on May 24, 2008 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

"Those acres of land can be used for other things."

Jesus, what's not for sale under the Bush administration? Maybe there's a beautiful spot for a grade school just down stream S-3 ponds area?

I knew they were throwing a lot of money at oak ridge in a futile effort to "clean it up" but I didn't know they were trying to privatize it for campaign contributors.

Posted by: B on May 24, 2008 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

B, I didn't mean to imply that the land would be privatized. I was thinking of other buildings that would be part of the Oak Ridge complex.

But you're right: under Bush you just don't know.

Posted by: Cheryl Rofer on May 24, 2008 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

I should just restate that I'd be a little hesitant to trust a "clean" sticker slapped on by the DOE or Bechtel and while I think certain remediation efforts are worthwhile, others are completely unproven. I think efforts to get soil and groundwater contamination down to levels where unrestricted use is possible (at an average cost of 6 million per acre in Bear Creek Valley) is probably not worth the 54 dollars an acre they're selling it to developers for.

Posted by: B on May 24, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I think K-25 is going to be long term leases for industrial use. I'm sure it makes sense for a lot of it (office buildings, etc. that were never contaminated). A lot of other land will be privatized (I'm sure 54 dollars is not the average price, but it evidently is happening). A decade ago I worked on a small project along Bear Creek and looking at the chemistry I'm still surprised they let people swim in the river a few miles downstream.

Posted by: B on May 24, 2008 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I am curious about what the mission of the DOE/NNSA complex is anymore, and would love to hear Cheryl's take on this.

Posted by: tbw on May 24, 2008 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Some pretty knowledgeable folks estimated years ago that it might cost $1 billion to dismantle the K-25 and K-27 behemoths in Oak Ridge, and they weren't happy when Bechtel Jacobs (with DOE's help) ran off all bidders who couldn't (or wouldn't) meet the fixed-price demands and opted to do the work itself.

I grew up in Oak Ridge and worked at Bechtel during the summer while I attended college. This is just SOP for them.

Posted by: Walker on May 24, 2008 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Tbw, Kevin has given me posting privileges for two weeks only. I'll take your request into account as I consider what to post, but I was thinking more of targets of opportunity than a series.

Briefly, I think that the DOE/NNSA complex has suffered from an unclear mission for at least the last two decades. Congress is making an attempt to change this up by demanding a nuclear weapons strategy from the administration before they will consider funding the Reliable Replacement Warhead. But any work that is done on any semblance of a policy will be obsolete in November.

It's not the most selective listing, but some of my thoughts on the subject can be found back at my home blog.

Posted by: Cheryl Rofer on May 24, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Cheryl, congrats on the plum gig! :-) You deserve it.

Just a heads-up for you. El Baradei's latest Iran status report should be out Monday.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig on May 24, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

> 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.

As always, mixed motives. I think it was Leslie Groves' memoir in which it was described how sealed envelopes with a full description of the Manhattan Project requirements were put in front of the DuPont Board of Directors, who were then asked to vote on accepting a contract of unknown size, $1 profit margin, and infinite liability without opening the envelopes. Which they did. One has to think some amount of patriotism was involved there.

OTOH there are also plenty of memoirs out there from the best-and-brightest young guns that DuPont immediately assigned to that project, and who later went on to become the captains of industry of the 1950s and 60s, that state that DuPont clearly knew that it was on to something of great long-term potential and that they wanted to be ready for the end of the war when the $1 limit on profit went away. Which they were and did.

I do agree that the contrast with e.g. Halliburton in today's contracting environment is disgusting.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 24, 2008 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

John R. Dunning, the man who invented gaseous diffusion and guided the creation of K-25. (His son was my nuclear physics professor.)

Posted by: AC on May 24, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking of the Manhattan Project, nobody has really brought up the Phoenix Mars landing that will occur on Sunday at 8:00 PM EDT.

There are some interesting video's out at youtube.

That thing that gets me is precautious that Unversity of Arizona pick for this thing? It sort of pisses me off. It looks so haphazard to land exactly the way those NASA people picture it.

So count me completely impressed if this landing goes off without a hitch, because I got to tell you, it looks so iffy? If this landing doesn't go exactly as pictured, I'm pretty sure the whole mission will be consider a scrub, the thing isn't mobil at all like the rovers. Sort of an very expensive wing and pray thing.


Posted by: Me-again on May 24, 2008 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

oops, here's the link,

YouTube

It just looks like one those things that Bushie funded because it was one of his friends - and that they NEVER considered that the thing might crash and burn, because the landing was developed by a bunch favoritism idiots. Another episode of taxpayer money give to a bunch Bushie buddies because they were Bush’s friends and not because they knew what they were doing.

Posted by: Me-again on May 24, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

These early nukular weapons R&D sites are a nightmare. Here in Washington we the Hanford Reserve. They've been working on the clean-up for at least two decades, have made next to no progress, the project is, of course, millions of dollars over budget, and no one knows (or isn't telling) how much waste is leaching into the Columbia River.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 24, 2008 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

This post is a bit of a muddle, Cheryl, but if your point is that cleaning up after the nuclear industry is expensive, I couldn’t agree with you more. Look, the nuclear power industry wouldn’t even exist without massive government subsidies, as this article nicely summarizes. Don’t let Bush and his corporate cronies at GE and Bechtel fool you – nuclear power is not the answer to our energy woes, at least not with the current technology. Too dangerous, too dirty and inherently it requires more energy to mine and refine uranium than the energy it produces. There are better solutions, but they aren’t profitable for the conservative assholes who are in charge of the country currently. Besides, why do we want to give prospective terrorists juicy new targets that could easily be taken out with low-tech weapons like a small plane loaded with TNT?

You last link to the contractor money in Iraq that has gone straight down the toilet is interesting, but probably deserving of a separate post. It seems a little incongruous to the discussion of the costs associated with retiring old nuclear reactors. I’m just sayin’….

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 24, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

An idea: Perhaps posts like this could be flagged with a big, flashing "Nerd Alert" sign before you click into the comics. Just saying.

Posted by: Pat on May 24, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum made "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" this morning....

The "excitement" starts at 7:14.

Posted by: jerry on May 24, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you Cranky.

(Was the fee a dollar a year, or the profit a dollar a year. If the latter than it doesn't quite sound like a fixed cost contract, and there could have been plenty of profit built in to the "costs".)

Posted by: jerry on May 24, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

50-60 years is all a nuclear facility is good for it seem---HOT DEAL.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on May 24, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

" ... to put next to my piece of graphite from Enrico Fermi's first nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago, ... "

How did you get that?!

That is SO cool ... do people still sell Trinitie?

OK, going to look on eBay ...

Posted by: TB on May 24, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't realize how vast Oak Ridge was. Feynman talks about troubleshooting it during the Manhattan Project; it makes me appreciate his abilities even more now.

Posted by: MattD on May 24, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Me-again -- Do some research. The Lunar and Planetary Lab and the Optical Sciences Center at the UA have been heavily involved in space and planetary exploration missions for a very long time. The Phoenix mission wasn't centered there simply because of "a bunch of Bushie buddies".

Posted by: has407 on May 24, 2008 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

The entire K-25 valley is an EM clean-up site, and is being transitioned to the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), a private-public partnership.

I've been in K-25 a couple of times over the past few years doing compliance work, and it's quite impressive. You could probably get a tour, Cheryl, if you're really interested.

Posted by: phein on May 24, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

jerry -- See here:

We did, however, insist upon two conditions. The first was that du Pont make no profit whatever from the work it did. The contract accordingly gave du Pont a fixed fee of one dollar on work that ultimately was to necessitate the expenditure of about $350,000,000, and the design, construction, and operation of by far the largest plant that du Pont ever built or operated. The second was that no patent rights growing out of du Pont's work on the project should go to du Pont. Our feeling was that the importance to the nation of the work on releasing atomic energy was so great that control, including patent rights, should rest with the Government. The Government accepted these conditions, too.

Having made these two conditions, we felt that we were justified in asking that the Government provide very complete protection to the company as to costs, expenses, claims, and losses. The Government found this request reasonable, and agreed to protect du Pont. It of course agreed to pay all costs of the work.

Posted by: has407 on May 24, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks has407, the second paragraph seems to make it clear it was a cost plus contract which could have plenty of additional profit built into internal structures. That's not to take anything away from DuPont's contribution....

Perhaps more importantly is that in the link you posted, we see a very early definitive use of the word "bug" to mean precisely what it means today. It seems a very important reference and one that would make the jargon file entry more precise.

Posted by: jerry on May 24, 2008 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

> Thanks has407, the second paragraph seems to
> make it clear it was a cost plus contract which
> could have plenty of additional profit built into
> internal structures. That's not to take anything
> away from DuPont's contribution....

But there were already rumblings of war profiteering investigations, and the Truman Commission was not far in the future.

In the event Marshall went to Truman and told him that he (Marshall) would give his word of honor to Truman that the project that didn't exist was worthwhile and should not be investigated. Truman accepted Marshall's word and did not dig into Oak Ridge or Hanford. Later Marshall offered the same word to Dewey, who agreed not to mention what he knew during the 1944 campaign (Marshall claimed that this was the only time he interfered in electoral politics and that it made him very uncomfortable). Would that we had a George Marshall today - I wouldn't trust any of Cheney's generals as far as Cheney could sprint.

So DuPont was well aware that the real danger was a Congressional investigation, which would not have been constrained by any deal the Administration might have made on the executive side.

Cranky

Truman Commission... what a concept.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 24, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

When I was a rascal in highschool my buddies and I used to hike out to the site where they have the remnants of Fermi's first experiments buried under a marked boulder in Rocky Glen Forest Preserve outside Argonne Lab near Chicago to drink beer and get high. In the mid 70s they closed it off after a torando went thru if I remember correctly. Recently discovered an old friend's father up the street was one of Fermi's physicists on the original project. Wow.

Posted by: markg8 on May 24, 2008 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Oak Ridge is a very strange town, laid out around closed sites, with a civic center that looks all the world like a junior college sort of stranded outside Knoxville. It's clusters of development and subdivision with grown up and fenced areas dividing them.
And there are a number of old nuclear sites around the southeast: 20 miles from me in the Dawson State Forest, the ruins of a reactor (supposedly used in early experiments on direct nuclear drive for aircraft by Lockheed)is inside several hundred fenced acres. And the Savannah River plant is huge, with multiple reactors decommissioned and radioactive turtles wandering away from it...

Posted by: MR. Bill on May 24, 2008 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

I read this stuff and all I can think of are the thousands of workers and surrounding residents whose health was destroyed by this plant and others scattered around the country, the tons of radioactive waste that will have to be disposed of for eons, and the millions of dollars wasted on this dangerous boondoggle.

Nostalgic? No. Regretful.

Posted by: Brown Bess on May 25, 2008 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

"Oak Ridge is a very strange town, laid out around closed sites"

I grew up in Oak Ridge. It isn't any stranger than any other small burb. The demographic is older than similar-sized towns, because so many folks who retired there elected to stay.

" with a civic center that looks all the world like a junior college sort of stranded outside Knoxville."

Modern fortress architecture. It's not bad on the inside: library, indoor pool, gym, etc.

"It's clusters of development and subdivision with grown up and fenced areas dividing them."

There is no fencing dividing residential areas in Oak Ridge. There is a lot of greenway, which was, in part, designed to obscure the population density when viewed from the air.

Posted by: Joel on May 25, 2008 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I overlooked this:

"I read this stuff and all I can think of are the thousands of workers and surrounding residents whose health was destroyed by this plant"

Uh, no. There is no epidemic of health problems in Oak Ridge. My wife and I both live in OR from ca. 1960-1973. Between us, we have seven siblings. The only health problems is one sib who had melanoma, not notoriously associated with radiation. Both my parents and both my in-laws (who still live in OR) are alive and in good health in their late 70s.

You should save your pity for more deserving populations.

Posted by: Joel on May 25, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

The Oak Ridge plant started with refined natural uranium, and as a result didn’t create a lot of waste (although the plant that shipped them the refined uranium probably has a big uranium tailings file). Hanford, on the other hand, reprocessed reactor fuel to separate the plutonium, leaving a large amount of waste which was neutralized and dumped in single wall carbon steel tanks – not the smartest thing. The good news is that relatively little radioactivity is reaching the Columbia River. The main health effects of Hanford occurred during the fifties when large scale airborne emissions occurred during the infamous green run. The earliest reactor at Hanford is being preserved as the third reactor ever constructed, after CP-1 (Chicago pile 1) under the stands and CP-2 at Argonne.

I don’t mean to minimize the danger of radioactive pollution to human health, but it is ironic that the evacuated area around Chernobyl is now a reserve where wildlife flourishes. (see Wormwood Forest by Mary Mycio) It appears people are much harder on wildlife than even the most serious radioactive contamination.

Posted by: fafner1 on May 25, 2008 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

What are the thoughts on the tons of "Depleted" Uranium used as anti-tank weapons in recent conflicts?

How much was spent to clean up the Fernald, Ohio uranium processing plant and with what success?

Posted by: deejaayss on May 26, 2008 at 5:21 AM | PERMALINK

> The Oak Ridge plant started with refined
> natural uranium, and as a result didn’t create a
> lot of waste (although the plant that shipped them
> the refined uranium probably has a big uranium
> tailings file).

If you ever cross the Mississippi on the McKinley Bridge (which is unlikely unless you live there), look north and south on the St. Louis side and note the absence of active industry or redevelopment of the riverfront sites and building. For some reason industrial property in that area is a bit hard to sell...

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on May 26, 2008 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Briefly, I think that the DOE/NNSA complex has suffered from an unclear mission for at least the last two decades. - Rofer


Uh Rofer, why don't you at least have a peaky at NNSA's website before blogging about your ignorance.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 27, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Which part of NNSA's website did you have in mind, optical weenie?

I'll admit that my comment was, er, brief. But I've worked for those folks and spent some time looking at nuclear weapons policies.

The problem has been that the United States hasn't really made up its mind what it wants to do with nuclear weapons. That's been particularly acute since the end of the Cold War.

Lots of questions on this thread. I'm thinking about trying to respond to some of them. But, as I said upthread, you can find more at my home blog. Scroll down for some of the policy pieces.

Posted by: Cheryl Rofer on May 27, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

soft lainz ceremony quotients banjo investors freedom hiring

Posted by: Ambien on September 14, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment









Remember personal info?










 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly