published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Tennessee: Janitor gets 6 years in nuclear parts theft

DUNCAN MANSFIELD

Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE — A former janitor was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday for trying to sell scrap hardware he stole from a shuttered plant that enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

Roy Lynn Oakley, 67, of Harriman pleaded guilty in January to one count of disclosing restricted data in violation of the Atomic Energy Act. He entered the plea deal the day his trial was set to begin.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan sentenced Oakley to the six-year prison term outlined in the deal and three years of supervised release after Oakley gets out. He could have received up to 20 years if convicted of the original two charges in his indictment.

U.S. Attorney Russ Dedrick said Oakley "betrayed this country in order to line his pockets with money."

Oakley admitted taking the equipment from the U.S. Energy Department's former K-25 uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, where he was employed from 2006 to 2007 by cleanup contractor Bechtel Jacobs and held a moderate security clearance.

The hardware, which Oakley had been assigned to break apart, included three 4-inch-long pieces of "barrier" tubes used to separate highly enriched uranium in K-25's gaseous diffusion process. This is old technology now, but the hardware is still considered secret, prosecutors said.

The design still works, though it's less efficient, and could be copied to make a processing machine capable of producing weapons-grade uranium. The U.S. has been particularly cautious in recent years over fears that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapon technology.

The K-25 plant enriched uranium for weapons and commercial nuclear reactors from the 1940s to the 1980s. It is now being converted into an industrial park, some 25 miles west of Knoxville.

Oakley tried to sell the material in January 2007 for $200,000 to foreign agents he thought were from France. The agent he met to close the deal turned out to be from the FBI.

Federal prosecutors said Oakley told the agent he did not want to sell the parts to a country like North Korea but thought the French government might benefit from them.

Oakley tried to peddle the materials in calls to French consulates in Atlanta and Chicago and the French Embassy in Washington. The French alerted the FBI, which created the sting operation to catch Oakley.

"His theft of classified nuclear materials for bombs, and his attempt to sell them for personal profit at the expense of his country's efforts to protect its nuclear materials, clearly shows that Roy Oakley was a traitor to his country and had no regard for the safety of others," Dedrick said.

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