By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The nation’s new energy secretary said Monday that a breach in security at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant was unacceptable and he’s taking steps to make sure it isn’t compromised again.
Ernest Moniz, who was sworn in last month, made the Oak Ridge National Laboratory his first official trip in office. Later in the day he planned to visit the Y-12 National Security Complex, which was broken into by a nun and two other protesters last year.
“Clearly this was an unacceptable breach of security,” Moniz told reporters after a brief tour of the lab’s $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source facility.
“With or without the Y-12 incident, safety and security are essential core elements of our mission. I’m in discussion in the department, in the administration and in the Congress right now, talking about how we will move forward on some organizational changes.”
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s first visit to Oak Ridge was short and busy, but he still came away impressed, according to Frank Munger. Cantor was keynote speaker Thursday at the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit, offering his views on budget battles in Washington, taking a few light jabs at the White House and showing he’d done a little research on Oak Ridge before he arrived and went straight to the stage.
“From the beginning, I know that Oak Ridge has been one of America’s strongest forces for peace,” Cantor said, referencing the Atomic City’s role in the World War II Manhattan Project.
The Virginia Republican tied the early atomic work on weapons, which ultimately were used to “help break the back of the Soviet Union” in the Cold War, to Oak Ridge’s pioneering role in producing radioisotopes for cancer therapies, which he called proof “of the serendipity of science.”
He said these were “amazing feats” and a source of inspiration and innovation.
Cantor said there’s a lot of discussion in Washington these days about the proper role of the federal government, and he said it is “appropriate and desirable” for federal policy to serve as a catalyst for the discoveries that take place at the facilities in Oak Ridge.
“The job in Washington is to encourage the innovation,” he said. “It is not to allow gridlock to stand in the way.”
Following his remarks, Cantor got a 25-minute tour of the Y-12 National Security Complex.
He fielded a few questions from the news media, and then was whisked away to speak at a $500-a-plate fundraiser for his host, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
— Note: See also the Chattanooga Times-Free Press report, HERE.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An elderly nun and two other nuclear protesters asked Thursday to be released from jail as they await sentencing for breaking into the Y-12 National Security Complex and defacing the walls of a uranium processing plant.
A judge could rule on that next week, but on Thursday said they will have to stay in jail at least until then.
Sister Megan Rice, 83, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed (bohr-CHEE’ OH-bed’) were convicted Wednesday of interfering with national security and damaging federal property during last year’s incursion. They cut through security fences, hung banners, strung crime-scene tape and hammered off a small chunk of the fortress-like Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility inside the most secure part of the complex.
The break-in caused a temporary shutdown at the facility and a change in security contractors. But jurors weren’t swayed by the defense argument that the protesters actually aided national security by exposing flaws at the facility.
The trio appeared in court Thursday in handcuffs and leg irons seeking their release until their Sept. 23 sentencing. At one point, defense attorney Francis Lloyd asked U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar for permission to put his jacket over Rice’s shoulders, saying that the nun was chilly. The judge allowed it.
Prosecutor Jeff Theodore said the government opposes the trio’s release, noting that they testified during trial that they felt no remorse for their actions.
Defense attorney Bill Quigley argued that the defendants had refrained from any more incursions between when they were arrested in July and went to trial this week.
“The give their word not to engage in that kind of activity pending sentencing,” he said.
The three could get up to 20 years on the national security count, which they have asked Thapar to throw out on grounds of insufficient evidence. Thapar set July 29 as the deadline for legal filings on that motion.
Gov. Bill Haslam warns federal spending cuts looming at the end of this week would affect not just the state’s budget, but also Tennessee’s economy as a whole, reports WPLN.
The sequester would furlough some federal workers in places like Fort Campbell and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, potentially setting back local economies.
Haslam is careful to say he believes the federal government should spend less money, but he sees the sequester as the wrong approach, pointing to across-the-board cuts in places like Oak Ridge. They would do equal harm to projects that are needed, Haslam says, as to those he called a nice-to, but not a have-to.
“Take a workforce development program or training program – that would be cut 8 percent, just like cleaning up mercury out of the water and land that they’re in the middle of a process. And you’re gonna call the project off; the contractor who we’ve hired to do that, I guarantee you it’ll cost more to pull them off and send them back than the money you save there.”
The value of the government’s economic stimulus program has been a hot topic of debate, particularly during this political season, but — not surprisingly — the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act gets warm reviews in Oak Ridge, reports Frank Munger. The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office received about $1.9 billion from the 2009 Recovery Act. About $1.2 billion of that windfall was designated for projects — ranging from environmental cleanup to construction of new research facilities — to be carried out in Oak Ridge. Now into the fourth year of the program, DOE still holds tens of millions of dollars to be spent in 2013.
While the precision of stimulus job counts has been questioned by the Government Accountability Office and others, DOE spokesman Mike Koentop said a total of 3,863 jobs had been created or saved in Oak Ridge as of the end of July. At that time, there were still 424 workers supported by Recovery Act funding, Koentop said.
Much of the Recovery Act work in Oak Ridge has been carried out with subcontracts, which end as projects are completed and don’t impact the regular contractor workforce at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 National Security Complex and other federal facilities. Because the work was spread out over four years, there haven’t been the huge employment spikes — followed by steep layoffs — seen at other DOE sites with a lot of stimulus money to spend.
“The economic benefit has been huge,” Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said. “It’s spilled over into retail and housing and the services industry. It’s had a dynamic effect.”
Congressional Republicans and Democrats harshly scolded the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday for a security breach at the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in which three peace activists evaded guards and cut through fencing to infiltrate the facility’s highest-security area, reports Michael Collins. U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called the break-in appalling:
“Not only did you have a security breach,” she said, “you had a breach of public trust.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Y-12 infiltration was “a wake-up call if ever there was one.”
The July 28 security breach at the Oak Ridge plant, where warhead parts are manufactured and the nation’s stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored, dominated a congressional hearing Wednesday on safety and security at the nation’s nuclear facilities.
Lawmakers said they were astounded that three pacifists, including an 82-year-old nun, managed to cut through several layers of fencing and spray-paint messages, hang banners and pour human blood on the site.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge say three people were arrested early Saturday for trespassing and defacing a building in a high security area of the site.
A press release from the facility said the incident occurred about 4:30 a.m. and an investigation into how they got into the facility is being led by the Department of Energy Inspector General.
The individuals, whose names were not released by Y-12 officials, were to be transported to another facility to be processed with federal trespassing charges.
Y-12 maintains the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and provides nuclear fuel for the Navy and for research reactors worldwide. The statement from the facility said the incident appeared to be a protest-related action.
Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the facility, said Saturday that the individuals used spray paint and a substance that looked like blood to deface the building.
Knoxville News Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/MU8CD3 ) that the three people were members of a group called Transform Now Plowshares. Ellen Barfield, who described herself as a friend of the group who had spoken with one of the people after the arrests, said the three individuals had cut through fences to get access and posted a banner and poured blood.
Barfield identified the three as Michael R. Walli, 63, of Washington, D.C.; Megan Rice, 82, of Nevada; and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, of Duluth, Minn.
Rice was listed in the Blount County jail’s online inmate information system as a federal inmate.
The nuclear complex does get protesters and activists to the site and Wyatt said they often stand in a public area near the facility’s front entrance. About a dozen activists were convicted last year of trespassing after they intentionally crossed a blue line separating state and federal property at the complex in 2010.
Dr. Michael Strayer, a former U.S. Department of Energy executive who was indicted last month on 13 federal charges, died earlier this week in Loudoun County, Va., reports the News Sentinel.
Strayer, who was involved in operations at Oak Ridge National Laboratories at the time of the alleged crimes, lived with his wife lived in a Virginia home that authorities allege was purchased with government funds diverted to their personal use. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland, where Strayer was charged with conspiring to defraud the government of more than $1.2 million, confirmed Strayer’s death and said the charges against him would be dismissed after the court received the defendant’s death certificate.
However, Marcia Murphy said Strayer’s death would not affect the charges against his widow, Karen Earle, a co-defendant in the case and alleged recipient of federal funds for bogus services.
Murphy said she had no information on the cause or circumstances of Strayer’s death.
“I know he passed away. I don’t know how,” she said. “We can’t be the ones confirming that.”
Murphy said there was an investigation under way in Loudoun County, which is in Northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
The Oak Ridge Utility District’s general manager used his position for personal benefit on more than one occasion, an investigation by the Comptroller’s Division of Municipal Audit has revealed.
Also, the district paid travel expenses for two employees and their spouses to go on a trip to Rome, although they performed no work-related duties during that trip.
The general manager bought a damaged skid steer, a machine which had been used by the district for loading and digging. After he bought parts to repair the skid steer, he then ordered the district’s mechanic to repair the machine at the district’s shop, using district tools and materials, before taking the equipment home for his personal use.
The district also paid $463 to add a subscription to XM satellite radio in a Chevrolet Tahoe purchased for the general manager’s use. The $38,820 vehicle’s amenities included an off-road package, heated leather seats and a premium sound system – all of which were required to meet the district’s minimum bid specifications for the vehicle.
Investigators determined that two district employees and their spouses went on a three-day trip to Rome at the district’s expense. The trip was organized in conjunction with the East Tennessee Natural Gas Homebuilders program, a promotional effort intended to encourage homebuilders to provide natural gas hookups in the homes they build. Investigators could determine no business purpose for utility district employees to travel to Rome three days before a homebuilders’ trip was set to begin, much less accompany the homebuilders on a Mediterranean cruise.
“It is important for utility district officials to remember that the money they receive from customers is still public money,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Therefore, it should be treated as such. Using district funds for personal gain is certainly no way for district officials to endear themselves to their ratepayers.”
To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/Repository/MA/Investigative/oakridgeud.pdf
Darrell Akins, chairman and partner of the PR firm Akins Crisp Public Strategies (who serrved as state commissioner of personnel when Lamar Alexander was governor), promotes Mitt Romney for president in an Oak Ridger article. Akins, who met Romney four years ago, said he recently had a discussion with the former governor about the Tennessee Valley Technology Corridor and its efforts to link science and technology assets in Oak Ridge to those in Huntsville, Ala.
“He was drawing comparisons between that and what he did as governor of Massachusetts in linking the technology assets in that state.
“Somebody who has that type of understanding and appreciation of what is important to us here in East Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley …. that’s a great deal of the appeal that I have for him,” Akins explained. “He’s very articulate and well spoken. He’s got a great skill set, I think, to be a terrific president.”