As I finished up a recent Chinese dinner of chicken with black bean sauce, I cracked open my fortune cookie and glanced at the message inside.
For the past 35 years, maybe a little more, I’ve covered the Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge operations. It’s a news beat I created at the News Sentinel after serving as state editor and realizing the wealth of news potential at the government facilities.
It’s been a pleasantly bumpy ride these many years, with a lot of highlights and some unusual happenings. I’m kind of proud of some of the things accomplished.
My reporting, beginning in the early 1980s, helped reveal the nature and extent of the environmental scandal in Oak Ridge — although it may be decades still before there’s a true understanding of the mercury contamination and radioactive dirtiness that exist in hidden places and an actual cleanup price tag for U.S. taxpayers.
Also, I’d like to think I made it possible, or at least easier, for folks in East Tennessee to discuss the operations and national security missions at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.
More than three decades ago, when I wrote an initial series of articles about Y-12 activities, including the weapon systems then in production and detailed accounts of how bomb-grade uranium is recycled from dismantled parts, I received a small flood of hate mail.
Workers who’d been trained to say nothing about anything as part of their security education were outraged, and some accused me of helping the enemy. In truth, this information was unclassified, and much of it was a foundation for discussions in Congress, where decisions were being made on how much to spend on the nation’s nuclear deterrent.
Over the years, I’ve had a chance to write about some of the nation’s biggest projects and had the extraordinary experience of tracking the Spallation Neutron Source from its conception as an idea at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, through its funding battles and construction to first operation as one of the world’s unique tools for materials research. In the process, I hope the work imparted some useful information and maybe inspired others to find a relationship with science.
Even bigger projects are on the way in Oak Ridge: most notably the Uranium Processing Facility that’s currently under development at Y-12 with a price tag approaching $6.5 billion.
There are days, of course, when work is work, and you have to bang your head against the wall to report the news. But I don’t ever want to underestimate the fun I’ve had.
Next week I’ll share some of the joys this job has brought me.
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