ACHP Advocates Preserving K-25

ACHP Advocates Preserving K-25

The interior of the K-25 Plant

On April 11, 2012, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) advocated further consideration of the Department of Energy’s proposed final Mitigation Plan that would demolish the entire K-25 plant. This recommendation is based in large part on the report of the National Park Service (NPS) requested by the ACHP under Section 213 of the National Historical Preservation Act.

The once mile-long K-25 plant played a critical role in both the Manhattan Project and Cold War. In recognition of its significance, in 2005 the Department of Energy committed to maintaining a portion of the North End of the K-25 plant (135,000 SF). The agreement was signed in a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Energy’s Federal Preservation Officer, Tennessee State Historic Preservation Officer and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. In 2009, the Department of Energy proposed modifying the MOA to allow for the demolition of the entire plan as the preservation had “proven impractical.” In November 2011, the Department released a modified MOA that would allow for the demolition of the entire plant.

In July 2011, the Department of Interior recommended that Congress create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park with units at Oak Ridge, TN, Los Alamos, NM and Hanford, WA. With the prospects of a national historical park, on January 17, 2012 the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation requested that that the National Park Service report on how the demolition of K-25 could impact the interpretation of Oak Ridge’s history. The report was requested under Section 213 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

On March 30, 2012, the National Park Service submitted its report. In it, NPS argued, “Because the K-25 building has no substitute, the NPS considers it vital that the maximum practical amount of the original building and equipment be preserved to enable the best possible interpretation of this facility and its operation.” To read more about the NPS report, please click here.

On April 11, 2012, the ACHP submitted its comments on the proposed final mitigation plan for K-25, drawing on the NPS report’s conclusions. The letter declares,

“The 213 Report makes a strong case for retention and interpretation of representative samples of both the uranium enrichment equipment…and the ‘worker experience’—the equipment and facilities…associated with the enrichment process that were operated by the workers at the site. The report stresses that the equipment and facilities should be displayed as they were used, and should be retained in situ in a part of the north end if possible. Throughout the 213 Report the value of authenticity, for visitors and scholars alike, is emphasized. The on-site preservation of representative examples that expose and illustrate the complexity of the gaseous diffusion process…is viewed as paramount to interpretation of the facility and its history.”

Because the NPS report is at odds with the DOE’s decision to demolish K-25, the ACHP proposes that DOE convene a meeting to address the NPS report’s recommendations. The ACHP recommends that the meeting should be held before DOE makes its final decision on mitigation, and notes that such a meeting would also allow DOE to share its opinion of the report and provide an update on the project’s estimated timeline and costs.

The K-25 plant represents one of the most remarkable efforts of the Manhattan Project. One mile long, the K-25 plant was the world’s largest roofed building when it was completed in early 1945, and was the first large-scale fully automated factory in history. As the NPS report emphasizes, preserving a portion of K-25 is vital for interpretation purposes for the Manhattan Project and Cold War history. A century from now, visitors and scholars alike will value the authenticity of the gaseous diffusion equipment and facilities as they were when workers once operated the enormous plant, riding bicycles to get around its miles of corridors. The prospect that Congress may designate a Manhattan Project National Historical Park later this year makes an even more compelling argument for saving K-25.