KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Officials broke ground for the lithium processing facility at Y-12 on Oct. 19. The groundbreaking was the beginning of the site preparation process before construction starts.

The new lithium processing facility will replace the lithium processes from an almost 80-year-old World War II-era Manhattan Project building. The new facility will span 245,000 square feet and will offer modern technology, increase processing capacity, and provide a safer working environment for employees. Gene Sievers, Y-12 site manager, emphasized that safety is the most critical aspect of the new facility.

“We are moving into an era where the hazards are contained. Our workers literally, go to work without Extra PPE on and are able to execute their mission and then return home safely at the end,” said Gene Sievers, Y-12 site manager.

“The capabilities that we’re bringing in is technology insertion, so modern equipment, modern controls with spare parts that are readily available to allow us to maintain that equipment for the workforce and really at the end of the day being able to execute an uninterrupted set of deliverables for the nation.”

Y-12 is the only department with lithium production capabilities and supplies lithium materials to support U.S. Defense Missions. Sievers emphasized that the Y-12 workforce is part of a larger mission and that the site’s culture reflects a sense of national security.

“For our workforce at East Tennessee, we’re part of a larger mission. When we cross the blue line and go through the gate at Y-12 every morning, we really stop being normal citizens and we start being national security and that is a very empowering and very important part of our culture here at Y-12,” said Sievers.

The construction is expected to be complete in 2031, and the site will be fully operational by 2034.