Employee charged with stealing classified uranium data from lab

By LARA JAKES JORDAN Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A contract employee at a nuclear material cleanup site in Tennessee was charged Thursday for allegedly stealing classified data about enriching uranium to sell to foreign governments, law enforcement officials said.

The man, who was not immediately identified, instead sold the sensitive material to undercover FBI agents, said two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the arrest had not yet been publicly announced.

None of the data ever made it out of the country, or was transmitted to criminal or terror groups, one official said.

The suspect was scheduled to appear in court Thursday afternoon. He was arrested months ago, when the sale took place, and then released. He was indicted on Thursday.

He worked as a low-level contractor for Bechtel Jacobs Co. at the East Tennessee Technology Lab, a cleanup site that once housed the government's gaseous diffusion plant used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

The gaseous diffusion plant was closed in 1987 and the cleanup of the site, including radioactive waste left over from the Cold War years, has continued under a contract with Bechtel. The site is part of the federal Oak Ridge reservation, but separate from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Oak Ridge is currently the U.S. Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory. Between 1942 and 1945, it was part of the top-secret bomb-building Manhattan Project, which turned this rural countryside about 20 miles west of Knoxville into a "secret city" of 75,000 people.

Oak Ridge was the first uranium enrichment facility, and pilot-scale nuclear reactor were built there. About 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium were produced in Oak Ridge over a year's time for the Little Boy bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The East Tennessee Technology Park is a former K-25 uranium-enrichment site.

"We're dealing with an issue of obvious sensitivity. I can't discuss it," said Billy Stair, a spokesman for the Oak Ridge lab. He said there would be a statement by the U.S. Attorney's office later Thursday.

The indictment marks the second leak of classified information from sensitive Energy Department sites in the last year.

Associated Press writer H. Josef Hebert contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)