East Tennesseans take a place on the international stage.
On July 12,
2004, President George W. Bush came to Oak Ridge for a first-hand look at gas
centrifuge components and uranium processing equipment that were at the heart of Libya's secret nuclear weapons program.
The evacuation of nuclear materials from Libya is one of the recent high-priority activities of NSAT, says division director Jim Sumner, who regards the event as an important milestone in the Laboratory's history. "We had one of our people on the ground in Libya and a cadre of people here doing the coordination and logistics support," he explains. In early 2004 the nuclear materials and equipment were flown under top security 5,000 miles from Tripoli to McGhee-Tyson Airport near Knoxville and transported by truck to Oak Ridge.
The bulk of the delivery consisted of gas centrifuges that Libya had planned to use to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. "The assets from Libya included equipment for running the centrifuge facility and a modular uranium conversion facility," Sumner says. "Also transported to Oak Ridge were four cylinders of uranium hexafluoride in natural, un-enriched form." Sumner said that ORNL staff relied on support from partners across the ridge at Oak Ridge's Y-12 National Security Complex to handle and analyze the Libyan materials.
The timing of the event was critical. Only months before, the international community was stunned to learn that A. Q. Khan, one of Pakistan's leading nuclear scientists, had admitted to being leader of a network that supplied Libya, Iran, and North Korea with centrifuge equipment. The Oak Ridge group played an invaluable role in assisting the U.S. government and the International Atomic Energy Agency in verifying the accuracy of Libya's commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and divest the assets needed to build a nuclear weapon. In the wake of the transfer of these assets to Oak Ridge, each of the parties certified that the Libyans indeed had turned over to the United States all of the uranium enrichment materials and technologies they were known to have.
NSAT is the Department of Energy's central point of
contact when technical analysis and support are needed for
nuclear matters of highest interest to the U.S. government. To
support this role, NSAT houses some of the country's premier
experts in nuclear technologies. NSAT personnel provide
advanced experimentation and analytical services to various
national-level government agencies, sharing their knowledge
to advance the security posture of the United States.
In addition to the analysis of nuclear assets, ORNL trains nuclear policy makers and other government personnel on nuclear technologies and nuclear nonproliferation activities. "Our mission has broadened to helping monitor law enforcement and other information traffic to determine if there are any terrorist threats to any DOE-ORO facility," Sumner says.
The mission is one that likely will remain out of sight, but not out of mind, for the foreseeable future.
Web site provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Communications and External Relations