published Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Tennessee Valley Corridor conference highlights nuclear issues

Despite the budget-cutting frenzy ongoing in Congress, there was support at Tuesday’s Tennessee Valley Corridor conference for the Obama administration’s pledge to seek $85 billion in funding to build a premier uranium facility at Y-12 in Oak Ridge.

Part of that funding — $3 billion to $5 billion — would rebuild the 59-year-old Y-12 uranium processing facility and modernize it. The modernization would provide technologically advanced capabilities to process bomb-grade uranium, dismantle old warhead parts and make new parts.

Tom D’Agostino, under secretary for nuclear security and the administrator of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, told the corridor luncheon group that the 8,000 people who work at Y-12 to take care of the nation’s uranium stockpile need a newer facility for safety and national security.

“Think about it. Even if we start today and go full guns to get this uranium processing back up, we’re still going to be in this same building that was built in 1952 for another eight to 10 years or so,” he said. “That will be about 70 years [in the same building]. I think the taxpayers have gotten a good deal out of that building.”

He called the Y-12 work force the nation’s nuclear counter-terrorism experts, and he said they need a modern appropriately sized facility “to do the kind of nuclear counter-terrorism work that this nation demands.”

After the luncheon, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who has been vocal about reducing the nation’s debt, said he supports that nuclear spending.

“I will work with the Tennessee congressional delegation to make sure that the Y-12 complex is sufficiently funded as it plays a critical role as part of our national security infrastructure,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who also has insisted America get its fiscal house in order, is another supporter of nuclear spending, according to his spokesman Jordan Powell.

“The mission that is ongoing at the Y-12 complex is very important to our national security and must be taken into account as we continue to prioritize our spending going into the next fiscal year,” Powell said.

In an earlier corridor conference session, TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore told participants about the Tennessee Valley Authority’s new 20-year energy plan, which calls for increasing the utility’s generation of nuclear power and decreasing its use of coal-fired plants.

“I have one of the oldest coal fleets in the nation. It’s time to retire some of those,” he said. “That will give us cleaner air.”

Kilgore also showed the group a video about TVA’s struggle earlier this month to restore power to North Alabama and parts of Mississippi after tornadoes downed nine major power transmission lines.

With rerouting and some temporary fixes, all of the 847,311 customers had power again within five and a half days, he told the group. TVA will continue to rebuild the transmission system through May and June.

Contact Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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