Tag Archives: Oak Ridge

TDEC questioning plan for new nuclear landfill at Oak Ridge

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee officials are raising concerns about the U.S. Department of Energy’s plans for a new nuclear landfill at Oak Ridge.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is pushing DOE to consider other Oak Ridge sites beyond the agency’s preferred one, the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1Sbgejm) reported.

The federal agency’s preferred site is adjacent to an existing landfill on the government reservation and only 650 yards from the city boundary.

“We are continuing to work with the DOE and EPA on this issue and taking the matter very seriously,” Kelly Brockman, communications chief for TDEC, said in an email response to questions.

The Department of Energy’s current landfill for cleanup wastes is approaching capacity. That’s largely due to the mountains of hazardous and radioactive debris generated by the demolition of K-25 and other former uranium-processing facilities in Oak Ridge.

DOE has said that opening a new landfill at Oak Ridge — rather than shipping the wastes to commercial disposal sites in other states — would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and minimize transportation risks.
Continue reading

Oak Ridge nuclear protestors released from prison

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who vandalized a uranium storage bunker were released from prison on Saturday, their lawyer said.

Attorney Marc Shapiro says Sister Megan Rice was released just hours after 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed also were let out of prison.

The trio was ordered released by a federal appeals court on Friday. The order came after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last week overturned their 2013 sabotage convictions and ordered resentencing on their remaining conviction for injuring government property at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.

The activists have spent two years in prison. The court said they likely already have served more time than they will receive for the lesser charge.

On Thursday, their attorneys petitioned the court for an emergency release, saying that resentencing would take weeks if normal court procedures were followed. Prosecutors responded that they would not oppose the release, if certain conditions were met.

“They are undoubtedly relieved to be returning to family and friends,” said Shapiro, who represented the activists in their appeal.

Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed are part of a loose network of activists opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. To further their cause, in July 2012, they cut through several fences to reach the most secure area of the Y-12 complex. Before they were arrested, they spent two hours outside a bunker that stores much of the nation’s bomb-grade uranium, hanging banners, praying and spray-painting slogans.

In the aftermath of the breach, federal officials implemented sweeping security changes, including a new defense security chief to oversee all of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s sites.

Rice was originally sentenced to nearly three years and Walli and Boertje-Obed were each sentenced to just over five years. In overturning the sabotage conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that their actions did not injure national security.

Boertje-Obed’s wife, Michele Naar-Obed, said in a phone interview from her home in Duluth, Minnesota, she hoped her husband would be released from prison by Monday, which will be his 60th birthday.

Naar-Obed previously served three years in prison herself for anti-nuclear protests. She said that if their protests open people’s minds to the possibility of life without nuclear weapons, then “yeah, it was worth it.”

Court orders immediate release of 85-year-old nun, two other Oak Ridge protesters

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who have served two years in prison for vandalizing a uranium storage bunker could be released in the next few days, their attorneys said.

Attorney Bill Quigley said the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the immediate release of Sister Megan Rice, 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed late on Friday.

The activists were convicted in May 2013 of sabotage and injuring government property after they vandalized a uranium storage bunker at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Last week, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the sabotage conviction, sending the case back to the lower court for resentencing. The court said the activists likely already have served more time than they would receive at resentencing.

Appeals court overturns most serious conviction of Oak Ridge protesters

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An appeals court has overturned the sabotage convictions of an 85-year-old nun and two fellow peace activists who broke into a facility storing much of this country’s bomb-grade uranium and painted slogans and splashed blood on the walls.

In a 2-1 opinion issued on Friday, a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the most serious conviction against Sister Megan Rice, 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed. The court upheld a conviction for injuring government property.

On July 28, 2012, the activists cut through several fences at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge to reach the uranium storage bunker. Once there, they hung banners, prayed and hammered on the outside wall of the bunker to symbolize a Bible passage that refers to the end of war: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares.”

At issue was whether the nonviolent protest injured national security. The majority opinion of the appeals court found that it did not.

“If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons … the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation’s ability to attack or defend. … But vague platitudes about a facility’s ‘crucial role in the national defense’ are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage,” the opinion says.

Rice is serving a sentence of just under three years. Walli and Boertje-Obed are each serving sentences of just over five years.

Defendant’s attorney Bill Quigley said he hopes they will be re-sentenced to time served and released from prison.

Millions spent patching Oak Ridge Y-12 building scheduled for demolition

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — The federal government is spending millions of dollars to patch up a former production facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge that is intended for demolition.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1GU06iL) the government has spent about $24 million over the past seven years for work that included repairs on two of Alpha-5’s seven roofs and removal of all materials at risk of causing explosions. And there is still more that needs to be done.

The repairs are necessary to mitigate some of the hazards the 530,000-square-foot facility poses to workers and the environment. Despite those hazards, there is no timetable for demolition.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have cited Alpha-5 in separate reports as a prime example of the government’s sluggish system for cleaning up no-longer-needed nuclear operations.

One of the criticisms of the recent GAO report was that the Department of Energy’s environmental management organization — which oversees the cleanup of the old facilities — doesn’t always consider risks when deciding which buildings to demolish first.

There are dozens of old facilities at Y-12 and other sites awaiting demolition. Many of the sites won’t be accepted by the cleanup program until the 2030s because of funding and other uncertainties, the GAO stated.

The GAO report cited National Nuclear Security Administration documents that show Alpha-5 has degraded so much “that site officials now detect contaminants, such as mercury, in areas where they were not detected two years earlier, and additional funds are needed to repair its failing roof.”

Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in an email that the agency is continuing to monitor Alpha-5 and will take needed steps to reduce risks.

“The permanent solution, however, is decontamination and decommissioning of this facility,” he wrote.

Alexander on $6.5B Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, head of the powerful Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee that controls funding for the Department of Energy, says he has a plan to bring Oak Ridge’s Uranium Processing Facility to completion on time and within a budget cap of $6.5 billion, reports the News Sentinel.

His plan includes drawing on advice from newly confirmed Defense Secretary-designate Ashton Carter. Tennessee’s senior senator supported Carter’s nomination and said his experience would be valuable during a “critical time.”

In a telephone interview, Alexander said he and Carter spent about 45 minutes last Wednesday in the senator’s office talking about nuclear deterrence.

“I asked him for his best advice on our nuclear weapons modernization program,” the senator said. “We’ve embarked on a significant and expensive effort to make sure that our weapons work if we need to use them. And I want to make sure that (a) they work and (b) that we’re not wasting any money because we don’t have any money to waste.

“While he was deputy secretary of defense, he was in charge of a review of our nuclear weapons modernization to try to help the Energy Department make sure it was managing it properly. So, as secretary of defense, he’ll be very helpful to me because he’s got experience with dealing with not only weapons modernization but with the uranium facility (UPF) as well. His advice will be very helpful as we try to allocate the billions of dollars that we’re asked to spend carefully and wisely.”

Alexander has been an advocate for the Uranium Processing Facility, which is to be constructed at Y-12 in his home state, but he’s also been strongly critical at times about the project’s cost growth. He said it was he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who set a cap of $6.5 billion for the project, which will consolidate and modernize the work with bomb-grade uranium.

Note: Frank Munger has a more lengthy report on his interview with Alexander at the Atomic City Underground blog, HERE.

Part-time judge, age 94, charged with aggravated assault

A 94-year-old man who is said to be Tennessee’s oldest practicing attorney and who still serves as an alternative Oak Ridge City Court judge has been freed on $50,000 bond while facing charges of aggravated assault with his car, reports the News Sentinel

“There’s not a word of truth to any of this thing,” William Lawrence Tunnell said Wednesday morning of the charge formally filed against him last week in connection with a Nov. 21 incident. He declined further comment, other than saying he took a “bad, bad fall” that day.

Tunnell, reported to be Tennessee’s oldest practicing attorney, allegedly struck Charles Smallwood with his vehicle after Smallwood and others helped Tunnell to his feet after he fell at the intersection of Waltham Lane and West Outer Drive in Oak Ridge.

Smallwood and other witnesses tried to get Tunnell to remain at the scene until medical personnel arrived. After Smallwood stepped in front of Tunnell’s vehicle to prevent him from leaving, Tunnell allegedly said, “Move you (expletive) or I will run you over,” according to the arrest warrant.

Tunnell then placed his vehicle in drive and struck Smallwood, knocking him over, the warrant states. Smallwood was taken by ambulance to University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

‘Millionaire Matchmaker’ sentenced in Oak Ridge extortion attempt

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An East Tennessee man who appeared as “the Beverly Hillbilly” on television’s “The Millionaire Matchmaker” has been sentenced to three months in prison for trying to extort $2.5 million from a nuclear weapons plant.

Prosecutors say Adam Winters in May emailed Babcock and Wilcox, the contractor operating the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. In his email, Winters demanded money in exchange for 1,200 slides that he claimed would be damaging if released publicly. The email was also sent to the FBI’s Knoxville office and to Vice President Joe Biden.

Prosecutors said the slides referred to showed nuclear testing.

The 26-year-old from Robbins pleaded guilty to extortion in July and was sentenced on Monday. After his prison sentence, he will spend one year on probation.

Oak Ridge Chamber PAC draws criticism

Some Oak Ridge City Council members are questing the propriety of a new political action committee formed by the Chamber of Commerce, reports the News Sentinel. Progress PAC announced its first endorsements Wednesday, backing three City Council candidates and two school board candidates.

The new PAC quickly came under fire from incumbent City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland (who were not backed) after its formation was announced.

They contended there was a potential conflict of interest because the Chamber receives $175,000 a year from the city and has a below-market lease from the city of the property it occupies at the corner of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Tulane Avenue.

But a move in a special meeting in late September to have the city attorney look into any potential ethical issues or legal concerns arising from the PAC was rejected in a sharply divided council vote.

In its Wednesday announcement, Progress PAC said the candidates they endorsed “best support exceptional schools and jobs in Oak Ridge via teamwork between the Board of Education and City Council.”

ORNL cancels class on learning not to speak Southern

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has cancelled plans for a “Southern Accent Reduction” class because of objections from lab staff members, some of whom said they were offended by the training opportunity.

Further from the News Sentinel:

ORNL’s human resources department early last week distributed a registration notice for the six-week course to be taught by Lisa Scott, “a nationally certified speech pathologist and accent reduction trainer.”

Here was the pitch to get employees to sign up for the speech rehab program: “Feel confident in a meeting when you need to speak with a more neutral American accent, and be remembered for what you say and not how you say it.”

The notice said the class would cover “some of the most common pronunciation and grammatical differences between Southern dialects and standard American English… In this course you will learn to recognize the pronunciation and grammar differences that make your speech sound Southern, and learn what to do so you can neutralize it through a technique called code-switching.”

Carolyn Ward of ORNL’s Learning and Development Services said the lab simply offered the class in response to an employee request. “We try to provide whatever requests we have,” she said.

ORNL spokesman David Keim said managers quickly cancelled the class after staff members complained.

“Given the way that it came across, they decided to cancel it,” Keim said. “It probably wasn’t presented in the right way and made it look like ORNL had some problem with having a Southern accent, which of course we don’t. That was not the intent at all.”