Securing Our Future as Science, Security Leader

What can you do secure our future as the nation’s science, energy and national security leader?

bechtel-clean-upThe following is a column that appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel written by Karen Harris, President of the Tennessee Chapter of the Energy, Technology and Environmental Business Association (ETEBA).

Have you seen the recent transformation at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, our nation’s principal resource for computing, energy and materials science research? It is not easy to access for most of us, but they do host public tours.

Over the past five years, new state-of-the-art laboratories and capabilities have been built, many with private and state funding. Phase I of the Science and Technology Park is now complete with two new private buildings hosting 15 collaborating companies.

The lab has designed, built and now operates the world’s fastest computer, the world’s most powerful accelerator-based neutron source and a high flux isotope reactor that makes East Tennessee the world’s foremost center for neutron science. Neutron studies at ORNL are leading to dramatic improvements in products such as medicines, energy, transportation, and electronics.

The lab also continues to lead global efforts in the study of climate change and leads other similar institutions with its goal to achieve a nearly carbon-free campus within the next decade.

Have you seen the recent modernization at the Y-12 Nuclear Security Complex, one of this nation’s vital sites for strategic defense and nuclear nonproliferation? While access to this complex is highly restricted, one of the new facilities, New Hope Center, has areas open to the public.

Our nation’s new repository for securing highly enriched uranium has been completed and plans are underway to begin construction of a new uranium processing facility to replace the antiquated, inefficient, costly-to-maintain facilities in which our neighbors work to keep us safe in a post-Cold War environment by reducing the global threat of nuclear weapons in the future. Y-12 has secured nuclear materials from a dozen countries around the world, including the material recently brought back from Chile amid an earthquake.

Y-12 provides fuel to the Navy’s nuclear-powered vessels and eliminates weapons-usable material by making it available for down-blending to a less concentrated form. This low enriched uranium supplies nuclear power plants to create electricity and supplies research reactors to test materials and produce medical isotopes for diagnosing and treating disease.

Some of these transformational and modernization activities have been enabled by demolishing surplus aging buildings and cleaning up the contaminated soils, but many of those 40- to 60-year-old failing facilities are still interspersed among our most densely populated work areas, posing risks to the workers, environment, and vital national missions. The strontium release not that long ago was one block from the Center for Computational Sciences, one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s most important research facilities.

Unfortunately, the list of cleanup priorities developed by DOE’s leadership team in Washington, D.C., indicates there are no plans to fully fund the cleanup efforts of the two most important economic engines in this region. Several DOE sites in other states have planned funding allocations up to $2 billion for their clean-up activities, although many are sites with no current or future missions.

In contrast, the cleanup of the Oak Ridge reservation will get about one-fourth of that, or $450 million. That is $150 million less than the minimum needed to maintain the cleanup program and keep the commitments that have been made to the state of Tennessee. A funding shortfall of this magnitude results in the loss of over 500 direct jobs, plus another 1,800 indirect jobs in retail, restaurant and other service industries.

Consider the national and international implications for failing to advance our scientific frontiers, failing to secure our country’s energy future and failing to sustain our national deterrence from weapons of mass destruction. The connection to the environmental clean-up efforts may at first seem unfounded, but they are, in fact, inextricably linked.

What can you do? Tell your elected officials that the cleanup at ORNL and Y-12 is critically important to you and that we need to regain cleanup funding at the Oak Ridge Reservation at a minimum $600 million annual level. These old facilities are creating unacceptable risks and it is urgent that we maintain the momentum we have started on their removal. Let’s ensure that DOE finishes the cleanup in Oak Ridge so that we can secure our future as the nation’s science, energy and national security leader.

Karen Harris is the President of the Tennessee Chapter of the Energy, Technology and Environmental Business Association (ETEBA).

Source: Karen Harris | Guest Columnist in the Knoxville News Sentinel
Photo: Bechtel Jacobs Company LLC