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Chapter 2: High-Flux Years

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FROM INSTALLATION DOG TO KATY'S KITCHEN

In the fall of 1947, Luther Agee, a draftsman at the new Oak Ridge office of the Atomic Energy Commission, was asked to work on a special project. He was told to design a secret facility according to specifications but was not told the purpose of the facility. He was instructed to say nothing about the project. After its completion, Agee and the other personnel involved in the facility's design, construction, or maintenance had to undergo periodic polygraph tests to determine how much they knew and if they had discussed this project with anyone.

An 
            artist's sketch of the barnlike structure originally built in 1948 
            to temporarily store enriched uranium processed at the Y-12 Plant.
An artist's sketch of the barnlike structure originally built in 1948 to temporarily store enriched uranium processed at the Y-12 Plant. The facility was later called Katy's Kitchen. 

Agee's design included a concrete building that was partially underground, a barn-type structure, and a farm silo. The idea was to camouflage the facility so that it could not be distinguished from other old farm buildings in the area.

The barn covered the outside entrance to the building, which was actually built into the side of a hill. A plain wooden structure with large swinging doors, the barn was designed to fit on the hill and was draped over the building's entrance. From the ground it looked unusual, but from the air it resembled an ordinary barn with a silo.

The building's outer walls were made of thick reinforced concrete, and it contained a long room designed so a truck could be driven into it, a pump room, and a "room within a room." This inner room was of standard bank-vault construction. A barbed wire fence and an elaborate alarm system surrounded the structure. Alarm panels and controls were located in the Y-12 area, and responses were sent out from there. Even intruding animals like foxes could set off the alarms.

For a year, Installation Dog, as this facility located near ORNL was called, served as a temporary storage facility for enriched uranium after it was produced at the Y-12 Plant. The uranium was taken to and from the facility by truck. No one was allowed into the area unless authorized, and no one actually worked in the building, except to unload and load the trucks. Two security guards patrolled the facility at all times.

Although Installation Dog was used only from May 1948 to May 1949, it was kept under guard for several years in case the need for it arose again. After 1949, enriched uranium was never stored there again; instead, it was shipped to a weapons assembly site in the West.

In 1957, ORNL's Analytical Chemistry Division acquired the facility from the AEC to use as a low-level counting laboratory. Its isolated location and shielded walls made it ideal for such work.

The facility came to be known as Katy's Kitchen when Katherine Odom, the secretary for Myron Kelley of the Analytical Chemistry Division, visited the facility several times. She often had lunch there, so Katy's Kitchen seemed an appropriate name.

In the 1970s, Katy's Kitchen was used as a laboratory for the Walker Branch Watershed studies by the Environmental Sciences Division. And more recently a steel structure has been built in front of the vault to be used by the Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Monitoring Program to study changes in cosmic rays and solar radiation that may occur as a result of increased greenhouse gas concentrations.

The vault is used to store animal skins, plant tissues, and aquatic insects for use by researchers at ORNL's National Environmental Research Park. Ironically, the vault that once stored bomb-grade uranium now stores samples of dead organisms, some of which have been contaminated by low levels of uranium fission products. What goes around comes around.

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