Construction underway on $6.5 billion Oak Ridge building project

Tennessee companies get 30 percent of work at Y-12 National Security Complex's Uranium Processing Facility

Contributed photo rendering / A rendering of how the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tenn., will appear when it's finished in 2025.
Contributed photo rendering / A rendering of how the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tenn., will appear when it's finished in 2025.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. - Tennessee's biggest single building project ever at $6.5 billion is well underway, and in-state companies are garnering about 30 percent of the business, officials say.

The Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex here will employ more than 2,000 workers on site when construction peaks in a few years to build a more modern location to enrich materials used in America's nuclear arsenal.

About Y-12

› Facility maintains nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile› Complex is 75 years old this month› 4,700 people work at the site› Sits on 811 acres› Uranium Processing Facility is projected to cost $6.5 billionSource: Y-12 National Security Complex

photo Contributed photo / Cranes hovering over the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 are believed to be the largest in the Northern Hemisphere, according to officials.

About $200 million has been spent so far and another $600 million in construction and procurement is authorized for the mammoth job.

"The construction project has a ramp-up phase," said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. "There's a need for money that will increase."

Fleischmann, who led a delegation of Chattanooga business people to Oak Ridge this week, said about $900 million annually will be needed in future years to complete the project by 2025.

Dale Christenson, UPF's federal project director, said the new UPF facility will replace an aging operation at Y-12 that dates back to the Manhattan Project, the secret research and development effort during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons.

"We're getting out of a 75-year-old facility and into one that's much needed," he said.

Design is essentially complete and the construction estimate and schedule are finalized, said Christenson to the delegation organized by EPB and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Almost all the work so far has been underground so as to secure the foundation of the facility, said John Howanitz, who is overseeing the project.

For example, dirt was excavated at the site to bedrock and about 150,000 cubic yards of concrete was poured, he said. That's more concrete than was used to build the entire new Mercedes-Benz football stadium in Atlanta, Howanitz said.

Vertical construction on UPF will begin in the spring, he said.

Already, there are a couple of enormous cranes at the site. Howanitz said the tallest is 360 feet high and officials believe the cranes are the largest in the Northern Hemisphere. He said nearly a third of the work on UPF has been secured by Tennessee companies, and officials hope to keep the number at that level moving ahead.

photo U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann speaks with the Times Free Press editorial board in the newsroom on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Fleischmann said he has spoken to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry about the Y-12 complex and UPF. In addition to enriching uranium for U.S. nuclear weapons, Y-12 takes in and reprocesses nuclear materials which other counties vountarily give up, he said. In addition, Y-12 provides nuclear materials for the U.S. Navy and research reactors.

Fleischmann, who is also chairman of the Congressional nuclear cleanup caucus, said there's still a lot of remediation of mercury and other materials needed at Y-12, the result of the facility's nuclear past.

Bill Tindell, the Y-12 site manager, agreed there's an aging infrastructure dating back to the Manhattan Project that needs to be replaced.

"It is a bit depressing," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

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