Not-Guilty Plea in Nuclear Theft Case
Friday, July 20, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn., July 19 -- A contract employee at a nuclear materials cleanup site in Tennessee pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he stole classified information about enriching uranium to sell to foreign governments.
Roy Lynn Oakley, 65, of Roane County, Tenn., was arrested in January after he allegedly tried to sell the sensitive material to undercover FBI agents, officials said. None of the information made it out of the country or was transmitted to criminal or terrorist organizations, officials said.
Oakley entered the plea before a federal judge in Knoxville. He was charged with two counts of possessing hardware used in uranium enrichment. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
His attorney, Herb Moncier, said Oakley did not take anything important. Moncier said government lawyers, referring to the hardware items, "say they are 'appliances.' We say they are trash."
Oakley was a maintenance worker for Bechtel Jacobs at the East Tennessee Technology Park. The park is a cleanup site that once housed the government's gaseous diffusion plant used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, the Department of Energy said.
Moncier said Oakley's job was to break up metal rods so they could be thrown away. Moncier did not know what the rods were made of, but said they were not uranium or dangerous.
A law enforcement official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the information, said Oakley was soliciting buyers for the material.
Moncier said Oakley sold the rods to an undercover federal agent who told Oakley that he represented the French Embassy.
The government said the material Oakley tried to sell was classified and that he had "reason to believe the materials would be used to injure the United States and secure an advantage to a foreign country."
The gaseous diffusion plant closed in 1987. The cleanup of the site has continued under a contract with Bechtel. The site is part of the Oak Ridge reservation but is separate from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Oak Ridge is Energy's largest science lab. Between 1942 and 1945, it was part of the top-secret bomb-building Manhattan Project.
"We're dealing with an issue of obvious sensitivity. I can't discuss it," said Billy Stair, a spokesman for the Oak Ridge lab.
The indictment was the second leak of classified information from sensitive Energy sites in the past year. In October, police conducting a drug raid in northern New Mexico found more than 1,000 pages of secret documents and several computer storage devices containing classified information that had been taken from the Los Alamos National Laboratory by a contract employee assigned to archive nuclear weapons data.
Because of that security breakdown, the Energy Department this week proposed $3.3 million in fines against the University of California, former manager of the Los Alamos lab, and a consortium of companies that took over the management contract a year ago.