How the DOE Used the Acquisition Process to Demolish a Contaminated Building

Today, many organizations lack the resources to engage in a formal acquisition process while others rely on acquisitions processes that are specially designed for a specific project. In either case, these organizations may fail to achieve optimal outcomes due to these types of approaches to the acquisition process. One organization that has recognized the importance of using a formal, standardized acquisition process in the U.S. Department of Energy which oversees dozens of major projects each year. The purpose of this paper is to provide a detailed review of a major program that has been managed, via the acquisition process, over the past decade, by the Department of Energy at the Y-12 National Security Complex. A description of the demolition project is followed by a discussion concerning the acquisition process that was used to guide the process. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings about this program are presented in the conclusion.

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Review and Discussion

Overview and Background

In this context, the acquisition process can be regarded as comprising three basic elements: (1) identifying requirements; (2) acquisition of requisite supplies and commercial vendor contracts; and (3) obtaining needed funding to achieve a project’s goals. These steps were closely followed in the demolition and disposal operations conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOE) in its Alpha 5 project. The stated mission of the DOE is “to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions” (About DOE, 2020, para. 1).

With more than 14,000 employees and operations that span the country, the DOE’s mission has assumed new importance and relevance in recent years, especially following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Maintaining the DOE’s far-flung network of facilities demands ongoing attention, though, including one its most important resources, the Y-12 National Security Complex. According to the description provided by the DOE, “The Y?12 National Security Complex is a premier manufacturing facility dedicated to making our nation and the world a safer place and plays a vital role in the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Security Enterprise. Y?12 helps ensure a safe and effective U.S. nuclear weapons deterrent” (About Y-12, 2020, para. 3).

The multiple responsibilities assigned to the Y-12 complex include the storage and retrieval of nuclear materials, the provision of fuel for the country’s naval nuclear fleet, and collaborating with other public and private sector organizations in furtherance of these responsibilities. Since its creation nearly three-quarters of a century ago, the Y-12 complex has become an increasing important strategic asset for the United States. Over the past decade, the Y-12 National Security Complex has launched a number of major remediation projects, including the following:

· New On-Site Disposal Facility Planned

· Outfall 200 Mercury Treatment Conceptual Design Project

· Mercury Recovery Project

· Y-12 Surveillance & Maintenance Corrective and Preventative Maintenance

· Old Salvage Yard Scrap Removal

· Building 9735 Demolition

· Alpha 5 Project

· Beta 3 (9204-3) Legacy Material Disposition Project

· Beta 4 Legacy Material Disposition Project

· Biology Complex and Building 9769 Deactivation and Demolition Project (Y-12 National Security Complex cleanup projects, 2020).

Although each of these major projects relied on the acquisition process to achieve its intended outcome, this paper focuses on the Alpha 5 Project which is discussed below.

Alpha-5 Project

Targeted at Building 9201-5, the largest building on the Y-12 complex, the Alpha 5 project involved a space that measured a massive 613,642 square feet (nearly as many square feet as the capacious Pentagon). The previous location of Alpha 5 (Building 9201-5) as shown in Figure 1 at Appendix A. Completed in May 1944, Building 9201-5 (Alpha 5) operated in a number of different capacities over the years, including as a production facility for the National Nuclear Security Administration Weapons Plant. Prior to its recent demolition, the Alpha 5 building was comprised of a massive basement and four floors which contained a wide array of equipment from its past operations. For example, Alpha 5 played an important role is hastening the end of World War II by serving as a uranium enrichment facility during the Manhattan Project. Following this historic contribution to the nation’s security, Alpha 5 was renovated to serve other purposes, and its mass spectrometers were converted in support of other strategic missions that also involved the manufacture and/or processing of extremely toxic substances, including the spillage of approximately 500,000 pounds of mercury.

In addition, other toxic substances such as beryllium were identified throughout 60% of the Alpha 5 building. Although beryllium levels were relatively low in some parts of the building, the were some “hot spot” concentrations as well. According to the DOE, “The primary site related contaminants for the waste in this facility are enriched uranium, depleted uranium, beryllium and mercury” (Birchfield & Albrecht, 2012, p. 3). In other words, Alpha 5 was a major environmental threat for DOE employees and the public alike, and these threats were well recognized by top DOE officials. In this regard, Birchfield and Albrecht (2012) emphasize that, “The Alpha 5 facility was built in 1944 and supported a number of missions that used materials such as uranium, mercury, and beryllium. Since it ceased operations in 2005, this highly contaminated facility has experienced significant degradation (p. 3).

The sheer size of the Alpha 5 facility combined with the wide array of highly toxic chemicals and radioactive materials made remediation and subsequent demotion an exceptionally demanding enterprise that required close adherence to the DOE’s acquisition process. As Birchfield and Albrecht (2012) point out, “This facility represented the highest environmental risk for DOE at Y-12 [which] must be quickly addressed to minimize impacts to future Y-12 missions, as well as human health and the environment” (p. 3).

In response to this challenge and pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), about 700,000 cubic feet of toxic materials left over from Alpha 5’s past defense operations were removed during the period from 2010 to 2011, and additional remediation efforts were scheduled thereafter, but progress was hampered by the fact that building 9201-5 still contained active security, utility and process systems (Birchfield & Albrecht, 2012). Compounding remediation challenges even further, this complex mix of deadly substances required a unique remediation strategy that protected workers throughout the process, as well as involving the collection of relevant waste profiles for future DOE deactivations, decontaminations and demolition projects (Birchfield & Albrecht, 2012).

Taken together, it is clear that the project managers that were tasked with remediating and demolishing the Alpha 5 building were faced with some profound challenges that demanded a comprehensive, standardize approach that was guided by the DOE’s acquisition process (Recovery cleanup project at Y-12, 2010). For example, the DOE project managers were required to contract with commercial vendors that possessed the professional credentials, experience and expertise that were required for this major project. In this regard, the Alpha 5 project managers report that, “Previously completed work scope for the project included removal and disposal of legacy materials from the building (floors 1 through 4). Legacy materials were defined as those being easily removed and involving minimal reconfiguration efforts (e.g., unbolting, unplugging, wire cutting, cold cutting)” (Y-12 National Security Complex cleanup projects, 2020, p. 3).

One of the more effective strategies that was used by the DOE project managers was dividing the Alpha 5 building into more manageable segments for remediation as work progressed. Therefore, the Alpha 5 building was divided into 82 discrete units and legacy materials were identified in 67 of these units located on all four floors; these hazardous materials were disposed of on-site as well as off-site depending on the relevant regulatory requirements (Y-12 National Security Complex cleanup projects, 2020).

Following the complete evacuation of all legacy materials totaling 464,000 cubic feet, the next step in the demolition and disposition process was to issue requests for proposals among qualified commercial contractors to identify the remaining equipment and building materials that were physically connected to the Alpha 5 building in what the DOE termed a “characterization strategy.” In reality, this was an essential part of the demotion process since it helped the DOE prepare for the building’s subsequent decommission and deactivation. This important stage in the demolition and lessons learned process was completed in January 2012 (Y-12 National Security Complex cleanup projects, 2020).

At this point in the acquisition process, there were no demotion and disposition stages authorized, but the work performed in this step facilitated the eventual process that was required for this purpose. Furthermore, the work that was performed during the characterization strategy operations was highly complex, technology-driven and required a multidisciplinary team approach to succeed. For instance, according to Birchfield and Albrecht (2012), “The characterization strategy involved a hybrid model of statistically-based and biased sampling events [including] traditional intrusive sampling and laboratory analysis, as well as a number of field-based characterization methodologies (e.g., X-ray Fluorescence [XRF], Lumex and Non-Destructive Assay” (p. 4).

The results of this detailed analysis were then aggregated into a facility-wide characterization report that provided the commercial contractors with the information they needed to safely and effectively demolish and dispose of the Alpha 5 building materials. To their credit, the project managers also succeeded in completing this complex operation within the 8-month milestone they were assigned by the DOE through close collaboration with their private sector contractors (Birchfield & Albrecht, 2012).

Since the Alpha 5 building continued to experience serious degradation following the completion of the characterization strategy report and no funding had been authorized for its demotion, the project managers then evaluated optimal strategies for the demolition of the building and disposal of the resulting materials, many of which were highly contaminated from lengthy exposure to toxic chemicals and radioactive substances. Consequently, the DOE’s Office of Inspector General (IG) issued a report in 2015 which concluded, “the combination of the large facility size, rapidly deteriorating conditions and vast quantity of items requiring disposition made this facility one of the greatest liabilities in the Department’s complex” (as cited in Y-12 National Security Complex cleanup projects, 2020, p. 4).

In response to the DOE IG’s urgent calls for action, funding was appropriated for the next stages of the demolition and disposal operations and the DOE project managers collaborated with private and public sector experts to successfully complete this stage of the Alpha 5 project on time as well as on budget by 2018 In addition, concrete slabs were poured over the excavated property to ensure proper drainage of rain water as part of the demobilization follow-up (Teamwork successfully brings down the Alpha 5 Annex, 2018). According to a leader of the Y-12 Alpha 5 project management team, “The job was tricky because they had to tear down the annex without damaging the adjacent structure, yet the work was competed flawlessly and with no safety incidents” (as cited in Teamwork successfully brings down the Alpha 5 Annex, 2018, para. 5). This observation underscores the risk management aspects of the work that was performed by commercial vendors pursuant to the DOE’s acquisition process.

As noted above, the acquisition process in the context of the Alpha 5 demolition and disposal project involved three-steps (i.e., identification of requirements; (2) acquisition of the supplies and commercial vendor contracts need for these requirements; and (3) obtaining the funding required to achieve the project’s goals), each of which required significant time and effort to accomplish. The fact that funding was first required to complete each stage of the process also makes it clear that the DOE’s Alpha 5 project managers were hard pressed to accomplish each stage in a timely fashion given the lethality of the materials that were involved and the complexity of their remediation before demolition work could even commence (Teamwork successfully brings down the Alpha 5 Annex, 2018).

In addition, the fact that the project was completed on time and on budget makes it clear that the project managers conformed to the DOE’s acquisition process throughout to achieve this optimal outcome. For example, the leader of the Y-12 Alpha 5 project management team added that, “The project directly supports the reduction of risk for the Alpha-5 complex as well as the West End Protected Area Reduction project that will reduce the high-security area of the plant by approximately 50 percent” (as cited in Teamwork successfully brings down the Alpha 5 Annex, 2018, para. 5). This optimal outcome, however, would not have been possible without the comprehensive guidance provided by the DOE’s acquisition process guidelines which are described below.

Overview of DOE’s acquisition process

The acquisition process that was followed by the Alpha 5 project team is set forth, in part, in the U.S. Office of Environmental Management’s Standard Review Plan: Acquisition Strategy Review Module (2010). The standard review plan (2010) defines an acquisition strategy as being:

A comprehensive high-level and business management approach designed to achieve project objectives within specified resource constraints. It is also considered the framework for the next phases of planning, organizing, staffing, controlling, and leading a project. In sum, the acquisition strategy provides an approach for activities essential for project success and for formulating functional strategies and plans. (2010, p. 1)

The acquisition process is viewed as being essential to the overall DOE process to identify project requirements and to obtain approval for funding using the federal government’s critical decision applicability standards. In this regard, the overarching purpose of the DOE’s acquisition process is “to ensure that the technical and business management approach is adequate to achieve the desired project objectives” (Acquisition strategy review module. 2010, p. 4).

Further, besides a series of comprehensive checklists to ensure that all required steps are followed in the acquisition process, the DOE project management team was also guided by the breakdown of specific responsibilities that were involved for the duration of the Alpha 5 project. These breakdowns included assigning responsibility for coordinating with commercial vendors and suppliers to the Alpha 5 team leader for the support services that were needed for remediation of the Alpha 5 building prior to its demolition as well as the work that was required to demolish and dispose of the contaminated building materials that were involved. For example, the U.S. Office of Environmental Management’s Standard review plan: Acquisition strategy review module (2010) describes the role of the Alpha 5 project team leader as including the responsibilities set forth below.

· In coordination with the Federal Project Director, selects the areas to be reviewed;

· Based on the areas selected for review, project complexity and hazards involved, selects the members of the review team;

· Verifies the qualifications: technical knowledge; process knowledge; facility specific information; and independence of the Team Members;

· Leads the acquisition strategy review pre-visit;

· Leads the review team in completing the Review Criteria for the various areas to be reviewed;

· Coordinates the development of the data call and forwards to the Federal Project Director, a list of documents, briefings, interviews, and presentations needed to support the review;

· Forwards the final review plan to the FPD and Environmental Management (EM) management for approval;

· Leads the on-site review;

· Ensures the review team members complete and document their portions of the review and characterizes the findings;

· Coordinates incorporation of factual accuracy comments by Federal and Contractor personnel on the draft report; and,

· Finally, forwards the final review report to the Federal Project Director and Environmental Management for consideration in making the decision to authorize start of construction (Standard review plan, 2010, p. 2).

Although the precise acquisition process that was followed by the Alpha 5 project team was also guided by other federal and state regulations throughout its duration, the above-listed activities are highly congruent with the contextual definition of the acquisition process that was set forth in the overview and background section above.


Built in 1944, the Alpha 5 Building 9201-5 played a historic role in helping bring an end to hostilities in World War II by its contributions to the Manhattan Project. In addition, the Alpha 5 facility was also instrumental in facilitating research into a wide array of chemical and radioactive materials thereafter, and the results of this research have likewise helped the United States retain its cutting edge lead in the arms race. Irrespective of the differing views about the impact of these activities, the research was consistent in showing that the Alpha 5 building was a critically important asset to the U.S. Department of Defense’s efforts to develop state-of-the-art military resources. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that the fact that the Alpha 5 project managers succeeded in completing this project on time and on budget was proof positive that the acquisition process followed by the Department of Energy was appropriate and effective for the purposes of this complex and potentially dangerous project.





About DOE. (2020). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from,

About Y-12. (2020). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from about.

Birchfield, J. W. & Albrecht, L. (2012). Successful characterization strategies for the active high risk Y-12 National Security Complex 9201-5 (Alpha-5) Facility, Oak Ridge, TN – 12164. United States.

Recovery cleanup project at Y-12. (2010). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from

Standard review plan: Acquisition strategy review module. (2010, March). Washington, DC: Office of Environmental Management.

Supplement analysis for the site-wide environmental impact statement for the Y-12 National Security Complex (DOE/EIS-0387-SA-02). (2018, May). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from

Teamwork successfully brings down the Alpha 5 Annex. (2018). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from

Y-12 National Security Complex cleanup projects. (2020). U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from


Appendix A

Previous location of Building 9201-5 (Alpha 5) in the Y-12 National Security Complex


Source: Supplement analysis for the site-wide environmental impact statement for the Y-12 National Security Complex (DOE/EIS-0387-SA-02) [May 2018]