Nuclear Research Coming to Alameda

Richard Bangert    A worker grinds a metal frame on Building 9, preparing to replace more than 9,000 window panes. Workers have already applied rust-converting primer to the frames.

Point tenant plans to design next-generation power plant

The underground infrastructure at Alameda Point may be old and in need of replacement, but many of the Navy’s industrial and civic buildings were built to last centuries. One of those buildings is Building 9, a former records warehouse on West Tower Avenue right across the street from the Bladium that is rock solid and worth rehabiltating. 

According to developer Joe Ernst of srmErnst, the horizontal alignment of the steel superstructure has moved a mere 1.2 inches in the 77 years since it was built. “And for all we know, it could have been off by an inch when it was built,” said Ernst. 

The hangar-like structure is being readied for the first tenant, Kairos Power. Kairos will set up a laboratory to test components that will make up a new type of nuclear reactor. No radioactive material will be handled there. In fact, Ernst says that’s spelled out in the deed. 

Unlike most structures, Building 9 does not need to rely on theoretical models to predict earthquake readiness. The building is outfitted with an overhead crane spanning the width of the building, mounted on rails running the length of the building. According to Ernst, an engineering company was able to simulate a maximum credible earthquake jolt by moving the massive crane, and then bringing it to a stop. The building is expected to survive “The Big One.”

The integrity of this steel-and- stucco structure, which has no interior supporting pillars, is due in large part to the underground piling and bracing system. The Navy’s building plans show that the pilings extend 70 feet below ground. The lowest 50 feet are massive redwood beams, which Ernst says are in fine shape. The top 20 feet is reinforced concrete. The bases of the supporting pillars for the walls are tied together by underground reinforced concrete beams that crisscross the width of the building. They keep the walls from potentially spreading apart. 

A $24 million renovation project is already underway on Building 9. All the window glass, more than 9,000 panes, will be replaced. The east, south and west sides will get single-pane lowE glass that reduces heat gain. The north side will get regular glass. The metal window frames are not deep enough to allow for dual-pane windows.  

Hundreds of linear feet of the concrete floor have been cut open to install new plumbing and electrical upgrades. When those are finished, the existing concrete slab will be reconnected with new concrete, and then six inches of new concrete will be poured over the entire 86,000 square feet. Ernst pointed out that while the building itself has not settled, the slab has sunk nine inches. He attributes the settling to the weight of the Navy’s fully loaded storage shelving that once rose 14 feet to the ceiling.

Two years ago, Ernst’s company secured a lease on the building with an option to buy. Ernst had high hopes for turning the building into a food-and-beverage incubator facility for start-up companies. But as the rehab cost estimates began to mount, including some $5 million for individual water meters for dozens of tenants, the projected rent became a deal-killer for prospective tenants.

Ernst’s company took ownership of the building during the first week of November. The company paid the City $5.5 million, money already earmarked for the first phase of water main replacement at the Point. 

Kairos Power will be moving its headquarters from Oakland to this building. Kairos will occupy half the floor space that will include a newly built second floor being added by srmErnst to the interior. The research-and-development work will be done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which is promoting a new generation of nuclear power reactors that use tennis-ball-sized “pebbles” made of carbon with uranium inside. 

Traditional nuclear power plants employ nuclear fuel rods that are cooled by water and subjected to meltdown if power to the cooling system fails. A variety of nuclear pebble cooling systems are in the research stage. Kairos is working on one that uses molten salt. If proven commercially viable, it will solve the most worrisome problem for nuclear power — potential meltdown. Even with total loss of power, according to DOE research, pebble reactors with salt cooling fluid will continue to cool the reactor as the reactor process cycles down.

 

 

Richard Bangert    Building 9 at 707 West Tower Ave. is undergoing rehab work.