Through reindustrialization, a once closed and contaminated nuclear processing plant is now the hottest real estate in Tennessee.
Workers dismantle, remove, and decontaminate nuclear processing equipment at the former K-25 site in preparation for leasing the buildings to private companies.
Dienamic Tooling leases plenty of room at the East Tennessee Technology Park to house its metal die manufacturing equipment, including this 450-ton press.
The East Tennessee Technology Park offers tenants such as Infrared Technologies an attractive lease rate. Shown, is the firm's short-wave, tungsten-filament heating system.
Formerly known only by the designation K-25, a gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., is like something out of an "X-Files" episode — complete with armed guards at the gate, restricted areas, and classified projects. But don't let this cloak-and-dagger scenario fool you, there is a "space available" sign out front, so to speak.
Renamed the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), the 1,500-acre site is an ongoing Department of Energy (DOE) decontamination, decommission, and recycling project involving. Once completed, ETTP will make about 7 million ft 2 available for rein-dustrialization and leasing at affordable rates. Currently, 30 private-company tenants lease space, two of which are Dienamic Tooling Systems Inc. and Infrared Technologies.
As part of the Tooling Systems Group based in Mich., Dienamic Tooling designs, builds, and test runs large metal stamping dies for the automotive and appliance industries. The company occupies about 35,000 ft 2 at ETTP.
According to company president Mike Walker, a lot of work comes out of Georgia, Tennessee., and South Carolina. In fact, the Oak Ridge location puts Dienamic in the heart of the South's stamping industry. "And," he says, "not many shops in the South can handle the size tooling we do." Having to accommodate large workpieces is a reason the company chose ETTP.
Besides its southern exposure, the Oak Ridge facility includes plenty of open square footage for expansion, overhead cranes already in place, and high bay areas. "All this made for an easy, hassle-free startup," says Walker.
The surrounding area also supplied Dienamic its skilled workforce. Out of the shop's 60 employees, only two are from its sister company in Michigan. In addition to finding journeymen tool and die makers, says Walker, Dienamics easily trained local machinists and apprentices. The company has already added a second shift.
Infrared Technologies echoes Dienamic's reasons for setting up shop at ETTP. The facility was not only affordable, it also provided wide open spaces for a sheet metal shop, machine shop, welding area, offices, and product demo and test section.
The custom furnace and power-supply control company's claim to fame is its high-intensity, short-wave tungsten filament for transferring heat to parts. "Basically, we have increased the temperature range of standard electric infrared," says company president Charles Blue.
Infrared's system tempers and hardens, does in-line heating, and stress relieves to mention just a few metals applications. It also applies to coatings, polymers, electronics, and ceramics. According to Blue, its system heats faster than standard electric furnaces because the filament reaches 4,000°F in 200 ms to heat materials to as high as 2,200°F.
What's the big attraction?
At first, most tenant companies at ETTP were local and already familiar with the site. But that is changing as more companies from outside the area, such as Dienamics, dis-cover all the facility has to offer.
Collectively, current tenants have created and filled as many as 300 private sector jobs, and the area's pool of skilled labor, most of which is former K-25 e m p l o y e e s , provides an ample supply from which to choose. Lease time is about 120 days from time-of-interest, but as more buildings are made available, the process will take less time.
With over 13 million ft 2 available, companies are sure to find a spot perfect for their needs. For instance, a 500,000-ft 2 building, once housing machines capable of drilling 12-ft-diameter holes through three feet of steel, is now clean and ready to lease. But vast linear space is not the only draw. For example, one company required 150 ft in vertical height and is planning to lease a building with 185-ft-high ceilings. And according to the landlord, more such space is to come.
A building, available in 2001, has two floors — 33 acres apiece — and several bays completely under roof. A 20-ton crane runs the entire length of one bay, which is 1,500-ft long, 100 ft.-wide, and 60-ft high. The other bays are just as long but not as wide.
Making reindustrialization a reality
A collaborative team of three players is making reindustrialization a reality at the former K-25 site. The DOE owns the land, facility, and assets. It leases the facilities to the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee (CROET), which promotes the site and, in turn, leases it to private companies. The Bechtel Jacobs Company of Oak Ridge supports the other two members of the team by preparing lease documents, assessments, condition reports, property inventories, and the like.
Larry Clark, executive director of the Office of Assets Utilization at the DOE describes the three-year-old ETTP project as "novel." It is the first time a mostly idle and underused federal facility will be converted into commercially available space for private-sector companies that get no funding from the government. The DOE opted for reindustrialization, says Clark, because decontamination on its own would take decades and not generate much support. In addition, expected cuts in DOE budgets will decrease staff availability for such a project. "Instead of taxpayers footing the bill," says William Biloski, facility reuse manager at Bechtel Jacobs, "the group is recycling the plant and reinvesting lease moneys back into the project."
CROET represents five primary counties and 14 secondary ones around the Knoxville/Oak Ridge region and sees the facility as an asset, not a liability. According to Lawrence Young, president of CROET, the site has an infrastructure ideal for manufacturing and is strategically located near major highways, railroads, and waterways. However, before any company could set up residence at ETTP, buildings and facilities had to be cleaned.
In August 1997, BNFL Inc. of Oak Ridge and part of British Nuclear Fuels plc, entered into a contract with the DOE to dismantle, remove, and decontaminate the nuclear processing equipment and support systems. Once completed, the three main buildings will no longer require continuous surveillance and maintenance, saving the government more than $80 million over the next 10 years. Safely decontaminating, salvaging, and recycling 129,000 tons of potentially reusable metal in the buildings will also mean a cost savings of approximately $55 million to taxpayers.