Fleischmann, Alexander urge Perry to visit Oak Ridge lab

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Spallation Neutron Source facility is seen in 2015.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Spallation Neutron Source facility is seen in 2015.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann says he intends to invite U.S. Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and educate the Trump administration on its value.

"I want ORNL to be his first visit," Fleischmann said about the former Texas governor who in 2012 talked about eliminating the Department of Energy during his own run for the presidency. "I will stress to the new administration... the tremendous benefit of the national labs."

photo U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, says he is optimistic about the possibilities the presidency of Donald Trump could offer the country.
photo Tennessee's senior Sen. Lamar Alexander visits the Chattanooga Times Free Press for a conversation with the newspaper's editorial board.

The Tennessee Republican, speaking to Times Free Press editors earlier this week, noted that ORNL opened an office in Chattanooga late last year to help area businesses better tap into the national lab and bolster a partnership with EPB.

The lab now has a designated person who's helping Chattanooga businesses with manufacturing and other issues and working with EPB on "millions of dollars worth of grants and initiatives," he said.

"I see a potential bigger DOE presence in Chattanooga," Fleischmann said.

ORNL has an annual $1.4 billion budget and employs 4,400 people including scientists and engineers in more than 100 disciplines.

Fleischmann said that with President-elect Donald Trump's efforts to bolster national security and nuclear power, he believes the Y-12 national security complex and planned Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., will be in "good shape."

"I have such a large Department of Energy mission, that will probably be what I focus on with the Trump administration," he said.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he has known and admired Perry for a long time and expects him to be an excellent Energy secretary.

"He understands the role of the Department of Energy in managing and modernizing our nuclear weapons, which is an important part of what goes on in Oak Ridge. And he knows that the future of clean energy depends to a great extent upon research at our outstanding national laboratories, including Oak Ridge, rather than upon federal government subsidies," Alexander said in a statement.

The senator said he has invited Perry to come to Tennessee early this year to see firsthand the work done at ORNL.

Fleischmann said he'd like for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to participate more in the ties with ORNL.

"It's about opening doors and building relationships," he said.

Fleischmann said that while the Trump administration is expected to look friendly upon nuclear power, TVA has shown a commitment for that energy source to be part of its portfolio.

Concerning coal, he foresees the Trump administration emphasizing its use in the United States along with exporting more coal around the globe.

"That will be something TVA can work with the new administration," Fleischmann said.

The Tennessee congressman said that with three new open seats on the TVA board - and two more later this year - "we've been getting calls right and left."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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