The Pinellas County Site is located in Largo, Florida, about 10 miles north-northwest of St. Petersburg and across Tampa Bay from the city of Tampa. The Pinellas Plant's facilities occupied approximately 70,195 square meters (755,584 square feet) under roof on 40.4 hectares (99.9 acres) midway between Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Florida. They included special testing laboratories for evaluating gases, metals, ceramics, and other materials used in weapons production and for controlling the process parameters under which these materials are formed.
The General Electric Corporation (GE) built the original 161,000-square-foot facility in 1956, on 96 acres, which had previously been Bryan's Diary Farm, in the center of Pinellas County. The primary mission of the plant was to develop and produce neutron generators for the nation's nuclear weapons program. These unique components consist of a miniaturized linear ion accelerator and pulsed electrical power supply. To produce these devices, the Plant acquired facilities and expertise that had broader commercial applicability.
The Atomic Energy Commission, DOE's predecessor, bought the facility in June 1957 and awarded a 25-year operating contract to GE that lasted until May 31, 1992. The Pinellas Plant, as it was named, continued to be used to engineer, develop, and manufacture components, such as neutron generators, to support the U.S. nuclear weapons program. DOE expanded the Pinellas Plant mission to produce multiple electronic and support components for other DOE programs. The expanded mission included the design, development, and manufacture of special electronic and mechanical nuclear weapons components, such as neutron-generating devices, neutron detectors, and associated product testers. Other work involved electronic, ceramic, and high-vacuum technology. Specifically, the expanded mission included the manufacture of thermal and long-life ambient temperature batteries, specialized shock-absorbing foam supports, ferroelectric- and glass-ceramic encapsulation materials, and Radioisotopically-powered Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). Part of the expansion included relocation of a similar production facility from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Pinellas between 1966 and 1967. The plant was expanded to 750,000 square feet in thirty years.
In addition to obtaining devices for neutron generation and detection, Pinellas had acquired design, development, and production capabilities for an array of related products and technological areas, among which were:
- Alumina ceramics, cermet (electrical) feedthroughs, and glass ceramics.
- Environmentally safe solvents to replace hazardous solvents for cleaning and coating applications.
- Ultra-clean, high-vacuum technologies.
- Hermetic seals between metals and glass, ceramics, or glass-ceramic composites.
- Test and process control equipment.
- Equipment for generating and measuring high voltages.
- Specialized electronic components such as lightning arrester connectors, optoelectronics, capacitors, vacuum switches, crystal resonators, and shock transducers.
- Active and reserve battery technologies.
- Sophisticated computer-aided engineering.
The Pinellas Plant was a major contributor to the Tampa Bay economy for over thirty-nine years. Peak employment was over 2,000 as late as 1992, the 1993 staff was 1,150, and approximately 635 in early 1996. In conjunction with the nuclear weapons complex consolidation, in 1992 DOE announced it would end its weapons production mission at the plant in 1995 and close the plant in 1997. In June of that same year, DOE awarded the operating contract to Martin Marietta Components, Inc (MMSC). In 1994, MMSC merged with Lockheed and became Lockheed Martin, which continued to manage the site until it was shut down in September 1994.
In January 1995, DOE decided to redevelop the site for commercial use. The Pinellas Plant Community Reuse Organization (CRO) was created to oversee the transition. Then on March 17, 1995, DOE sold most of the plant, along with its analytical laboratory, machine shop, office, and manufacturing equipment, to the Pinellas County Industry Council (PCIC). At that time, the plant was renamed the Pinellas Science, Technology and Research (STAR) Center. DOE transferred the facility to PCIC to help alleviate the economic impact of the closing on neighboring communities. DOE was an onsite tenant until December 1997 in order to carry out its required industrial clean-up activities. A technology transfer program was established at Pinellas Plant so its capabilities could be shared with U.S. companies. Its staff's expertise was made available to help industries solve product development and manufacturing problems.
In July 1999, the Pinellas County Government replaced the PCIC with Pinellas County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and the Economic Development Department, under which the Center operates to which the center reports. In December 2001, the Pinellas STAR Center was renamed the Young-Rainey STAR Center. In October 2004, CRO was awarded a $1.5 million DOE grant for infrastructure upgrades and to assist in the economic development of a high-tech incubator at the STAR Center to continue its transformation to a high-tech manufacturing center. Through the grant CRO established the STAR Technology Enterprise Center (STAR TEC), a business accelerator program to assist aspiring manufacturing and technology-based businesses.
The Young-Rainey STAR Center is the nation's first successful conversion from a former DOE defense manufacturing facility to a commercial, high technology center. The STAR Center is owned and operated by the government of Pinellas County, Florida and is located at the western gateway of Florida's High Tech Corridor. The STAR Center has more than 30 tenants, employing approximately 1,600 workers. The site has also expanded to approximately about 1.3 million square feet.
DOE has an ongoing environmental restoration program for an 8-hectare (20-acre) plot in the northeast corner of the facility and another 1.8-hectare (4.5-acre) area near the northwest corner of the site. Both of these areas have groundwater contamination from past storage and disposal of drummed waste and debris.
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