The biggest construction project in the history of Tennessee is about to begin

$6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility project underway at Y-12 National Security Complex

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Talks underway about Oak Ridge National Laboratory office in Chattanooga

About Y-12

› Formal name: Y-12 National Security Complex› Use: Maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile› Size: 811 acres; 150 high-security acres› Employees: 4,600 workers; 2,800 employed by subcontractors› Annual wages: $417 millionSource: Y-12, Chattanooga Chamber

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. - The biggest single construction project ever in Tennessee is slated to ramp up next year, and Chattanooga area companies have the chance to tap into it, officials say.

"Now is the time to be ready," said Rich Brown, procurement director for the $6.5 billion Uranium Processing Facility project underway at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Brown told a group of about 50 Chattanooga area business and political leaders last week that 2016 is when construction will ratchet up on UPF. The site will provide a modern location for maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile and replace a badly aging facility.

The group toured the heavily guarded Y-12 complex and the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory as Chattanoogans seek more ways to grow business ties with the federal facilities, which together receive some $4 billion in annual funding.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who led the delegation, said Oak Ridge remains the uranium center of the country and Y-12 has "a critically important mission."

He said the U.S. Department of Energy has a plan for bidding out goods and services for UPF construction and doing business with Tennesseans first.

While UPF funding is low now, the aim is to increase federal appropriations significantly with an eye on completing the massive project by 2025. The $6.5 billion price tag dwarfs even huge building projects, including the $4.5 billion cost for the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant Unit 2 and the $2.4 billion Wacker is spending on its Charleston, Tenn., polysilicon facility.

Brown said UPF construction at its peak will spur 2,400 jobs. Estimates are that the project also will create 9,600 supporting jobs, he said.

"Everybody's got a chance to participate in this project," he said. "We go from the most complex to commercial off-the-shelf items."

Y-12 also provides nuclear materials for the U.S. Navy and research reactors, and it disposes of materials and does packaging and storage.

About UPF

› Formal name: Uranium Processing Facility› Use: State-of-the-art, consolidated facility for enriched uranium operations› Cost: $6.5 billion› Construction jobs: 2,400 at peak› Needed construction materials: 15,000 tons of structural steel; 10,000 tons of rebar; 3.2 million feet of wire and cable› Planned completion: 2025› For UPF supplier information:

Nearby, the vast ORNL is the Department of Energy's largest science and energy lab nationally.

Thom Mason, ORNL's director, said half of the lab's work is basic research with about 25 percent related to national security. About 6,000 people work at the lab on a daily basis.

At the ORNL Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, officials showed off products made by 3-D printing, or so-called additive manufacturing.

Bill Peter, the facility's deputy director, said that sectors ranging from aircraft production, automobile assembly, and prosthetic manufacturing can benefit from 3-D printing. A Shelby sports car sat nearby, and Peter said its chassis and body panels were made using additive manufacturing.

"You can make things you just can't make any other way," he said.

Jeff Bruce, engineering manager for paper food packaging maker Southern Champion Tray, said he sees potential applications for the Chattanooga-based company.

"We have our own machine shop," he said, noting there is manufacturing it could do through the use of 3-D printers.

Branch Technology, a Chattanooga start-up, uses 3-D printing to construct building walls, said Kathryn Foster, who heads the city's small business incubator.

"They've been working with Oak Ridge," said Foster, adding the company has been in the Business Development Center for about four months.

At ORNL's Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, the lab makes the material that's lighter and stronger than steel.

Volkswagen, which has a production plant in Chattanooga, is a member of a consortium of 50 companies interested in what's going on with carbon fiber advances, officials said.

ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source is called a one-of-a-kind research facility that provides the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world for scientific research and industrial development.

Ken Herwig, ORNL's neutron scattering sciences group leader, said there's typically three times more requests for science at the facility than it can do. He said the largest group of people who use the facility come from universities.

Having opened in 2006, Herwig said SNS is just "hitting full stride."

Charles Kimbrough Jr., director of operations and business development at Chattanooga-based C.J. Enterprises Inc., said the records and information management company first worked in Oak Ridge in 1988. He said he sees further opportunities ahead for Chattanooga businesses working with the Oak Ridge facilities.

"They're good for small businesses," Kimbrough said.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.