Jeffrey LewisUS Spinning Libyan Centrifuges


Uh, well, no Mr. President, you see, it isn’t exactly like a Sit-N-Spin …

Frank Munger has great stuff on his blog again.

I missed this but, in September 2005, Y-12 General Manager Dennis Ruddy told reporters that the United States is actually operating centrifuges from Libya in order to gain insight into other countries nuclear weapons programs. Ruddy’s comment appeared in a story by Munger in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, as well an AP stories (full text of the AP story in the comments).

Munger put the relevant section about operating Libyan centrifuges on his blog. Here is the full quote from his September 26, 2005 story (“Libyan nuclear equipment still at Y-12”):

In an interview last week, Y-12 general manager Dennis Ruddy initially declined to talk about the Libyan equipment.

He later acknowledged that government experts are still visiting Oak Ridge to scrutinize the centrifuge components. “That’s a cooperative thing between us and the lab (ORNL),” he said.

Ruddy added, “There’s a lot of interest in the things that we brought back from Libya because of lot of them, looking at them, measuring the tolerances, setting them up and operating them, to a certain extent tells us how close people are to be able to get a system that can work all the way to bomb-grade material.”

I guess we should have assumed that. Still, kind of makes you take a second look at the most recent Iran NIE — especially that INR reference to “foreseeable technical and programmatic problems” — huh?

Ruddy’s comment, Munger suspects, resulted in a decision by Y-12 contractor BWXT a few weeks later to pull Ruddy’s security clearances and relieve him of his post as general manager (“Ruddy relieved of Y-12 duties,” October 12, 2005).

Bolstering Munger’s suspicion is the timing of Ruddy’s dismissal and the fact that, whenever Munger asks ORNL employees about Libya, folks clam up. “Every time I ask a question with that word in it,” Munger writes about Libya, “Oak Ridge folks act like I’ve asked them for the PIN to their bank cards.”

Comments

  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    The Associated Press State & Local Wire, September 25, 2005

    Y-12 still housing Libyan nuclear equipment

    DATELINE: OAK RIDGE, Tenn.

    Nuclear equipment that arrived here from Libya 20 months ago remains housed at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant.

    Oak Ridge officials confirmed the status of the equipment, but refused to discuss what is being housed in the plant, where the items are located or future plans for the equipment, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

    “Storage continues as we await final disposition,” said Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration. “I can’t say any more than that.”

    In January 2004, a U.S.-led team airlifted from Libya containers of uranium hexafluoride and equipment capable of enriching uranium needed to make nuclear weapons. The uranium remained at Y-12 for a short time before being transported to a facility in Piketon, Ohio.

    The secretly negotiated mission was a coup for the Bush administration, forcing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to abandon his nuclear program and give up efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

    The equipment has remained at Y-12, apparently to allow nuclear and intelligence experts to extract as much information as possible on the Libyan program, its contributors and its capabilities.

    Y-12 general manager Dennis Ruddy acknowledged that government experts are still visiting Oak Ridge to scrutinize the equipment.

    “There’s a lot of interest in the things that we brought back from Libya because of lot of them, looking at them … to a certain extent tells us how close people are to be able to get a system that can work all the way to bomb-grade material,” he said.

    The Associated Press State & Local Wire, May 22, 2004

    Oak Ridge complex receives another nuclear shipment from Libya

    DATELINE: OAK RIDGE, Tenn.

    More shipments of nuclear material from Libya have arrived at the Y-12 National Security Complex, but officials are offering few details.

    “We’ve had some things arrive at the plant since that first flurry,” said Dennis Ruddy, general manager at Y-12.

    He declined to describe the contents or say if more of Libya’s nuclear material is on the way.

    “We’ve got what we’ve got,” Ruddy said. “Future shipments are all classified until after they get here. … I can’t say.”

    The cargo is a result of an agreement with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to dismantle his nuclear weapons program.

    The initial load airlifted from Libya in late January was displayed for reporters and included equipment used to make nuclear bomb fuel from uranium. Also on display were four of the centrifuges, which are used to separate uranium into its explosive components.

    A freighter later left Libya with another 500 tons of equipment, much of it reportedly bound for Oak Ridge, but officials here have been mum on the topic.

    “The answer is yes. That’s the extent of what I can say,” Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy, said when asked if new materials had arrived at the Oak Ridge plant.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in March that Oak Ridge, the nation’s principal storehouse for bomb-grade uranium, has lead responsibility for the Libyan materials.

    But Ruddy said some things taken out of Libya were never destined for Y-12.

    “Anything that is explosive or has high-concentrated energy generally won’t come here,” he said.

    Ruddy apparently was referring to Scud missiles and ballistic missile guidance systems said to be in the Libyan cargoes. The military hardware reportedly was bound for the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

    Also, some of the nuclear materials, such as canisters of uranium hexafluoride, only stayed at the Oak Ridge plant for a short time. The natural or slightly enriched uranium was sent to the U.S. Enrichment Corp., which enriches uranium for use as fuel in nuclear reactors.

    “It stayed here only as long as it took us to make arrangements to send it to its final destination,” Ruddy said.

    Y-12’s role is to provide high security, at least in the short term, for the materials and to conduct analyses on the state of Libya’s nuclear programs.

    “We have the expertise here to understand the maturity of programs and other things like that,” Ruddy said. “So, a lot of the forensics will be done here by people at Y-12 or ORNL or visiting people who come from around the (nuclear weapons) complex.”

    The Oak Ridge plant historically has produced parts for every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. It also is known as the “Fort Knox of Uranium” because of its storage of strategic nuclear materials.

  2. Muskrat (History)

    Bet you a spiffy new aluminum tube that half their PINs are “U235”…

  3. nnamdi (History)

    dear Jeffrey:

    why wasn’t the Pakisntan-AQ Kahn-KRl connection mentioned with the Libya program ????

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