Plain Talk

Plain Talk

Posted: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Nicolle Gallagher, Guest Columnist

The Press 1/4

I’ve never been a big “New Year’s Resolution” kind of person, any day is a good day to reach for a new goal. I prefer to use the end of the year as a time to look back. I enjoy flipping through the months of the calendar before I throw it out and replace it with the new year and new plans. 

I feel like we need to toot our own horn a little bit right now; especially considering the wave of national security accomplishments in 2010. 

Senators Alexander and Corker both ended up voting for ratification of the START nuclear treaty. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is expected to benefit from the $85 billion in spending over the next 10 years. 

That will generate a lot of short and long term jobs in the Oak Ridge area so it’s not a real surprise that both our senators voted for it. It’s surprising that they waited so long given the unemployment rate in Tennessee, but I’ll stick to the old gift horse rule and just be grateful that it was signed. 

We’ll be modernizing how we deal with depleted uranium – which may eventually end up being stored as close as Milan so I for one am glad that we’ll be making investments in research and technology.   

This time last year the whole country was talking about the bomb attempt on Christmas Day and this year we just ended a debate about TSA body scans.

It really is amazing how short our collective memory is – first the President was blamed for lax airport security and this year he’s blamed for frisky TSA searches. There’s more to the story than the controversy – there always is. 

In less than a year the federal government had new body scanning equipment and/or procedures rolled out to the major airports – all 376 of them in about 10 months. That’s a pretty ambitious goal and impressive feat – no matter what your politics. 

Yes, there are issues; that is to be expected; it always happens when a new system is put in place. The same thing happened when they implemented color coding and the no-fly list after 9/11. 

But all in all – anyone who has ever managed a project, big or small, should be impressed with the effort. In hindsight, why weren’t there any news stories about the effort it took to plan out the locations, build the machines, install the components, test the system and train the employees. 

As a country, we don’t seem to admire our accomplishments too often; the procurement and implementation of new body scan equipment in airports isn’t going to get big ratings on 60 minutes any time soon.  

Another national security story that went pretty much unnoticed until recently is our role in securing vulnerable enriched uranium from around the world. Why have we stopped paying attention to this? It’s a story with spies! 

That’s got to be enough to make Good Morning America. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) just recovered enough enriched uranium from the Ukraine to make two nuclear bombs. 

The head of the administration, Thomas D’Agostino, explained that the agency has been aggressively acting on the goal President Obama set in the early months of his administration, to recover 100 percent of the vulnerable nuclear material from the Atoms for Peace program that was started back in the Eisenhower administration. 

The agents decided to do it in the dead of night during the week between Christmas and New Years because they thought it would be safer. 

They had to coordinate with four different countries and dozens of agencies within each country to secure and transport the enriched uranium back to the United States. 

It’s the first step, 35 nations that received enriched uranium from that program are now considered vulnerable to the black market by the NNSA. Nineteen of those sites are either secured or on track to being secured by the target date of 2012; so only 16 to go. 

Step 2 is making sure the uranium is safely secured when it gets here – I’ll put a note on my calendar now to check on it this time next year. 

Send me your comments by email to nicolle.crist@gmail.com.

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