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Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Ornl)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is a United States National Laboratory managed for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) by UT-Battelle, LLC. In addition to basic scientific research, ORNL conducts research projects and isotope production designed to contribute to national security.

The 58-square-mile Oak Ridge facility was originally known as the Clinton Laboratories or Clinton Engineering Works, but in 1943 ORNL was tasked with the separation of plutonium for the Manhattan Project (the U.S program during World War II to develop an atomic bomb). During the war, the Oak Ridge site became one of three major laboratories developed for the Manhattan Projectthe others were located at Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Bomb design work and testing was completed at Los Alamos under the leadership of the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, but the critical fuel production problems were solved, and actual fuel production work completed, at the Oak Ridge and Hanford sites. The Oak Ridge site was chosen, in part, because the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was able to supply the large electrical requirements of isotope separation equipment. At the Oak Ridge site, the process of gaseous diffusion was used to extract the U-235 isotope from uranium ore. By early 1945, the Oak Ridge lab was capable of producing uranium-235 purified to weapons grade use.

The modern ORNL staff includes more than 1500 scientists and engineers and more than 200 support and administrative personnel. In addition, ORNL annually hosts approximately 3000 additional visiting scientists and engineers who collaborate on specific projects. To the extent that research complements DOE missions or enhances national security issues, ORNL personnel are allowed to collaborate on research projects for non-DOE sponsors.

The Oak Ridge research program encompasses the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE), and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab). Over-sight of ORNL is also coordinated by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, a not-for-profit consortium of 86 colleges and universities.

Environmental remediation and nuclear waste disposal issues are a part of the majority of ORNL programs. I addition to providing global assistance and expertise in remediation matters, ORNL scientists and engineers also use those skills and technologies in clean-up operations at the Oak Ridge Reservation; past research efforts have left portions of the site contaminated with nuclear and chemical waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists Oak Ridge among the nation's clean-up priorities.

The Y-12 National Security Complex houses many of the most secret national security projects, including research on nuclear weapon components and nuclear propulsion systems for the U.S. Navy. Among other ORNL advances is the refinement of a Chemical Biological Mass Spectrometer (CBMS) used in the enhanced detection of chemical and biological agents.

ORNL also produced the Raman Tunable Integrated Sensor (RAMiTS) used by inspectors and first responders to detect chemical agents (including explosive agents). The portable unit weighs only 40 pounds and includes a 12-foot fiber-optic sensing probe that allows inspectors to examine suspected agents from a safer distance.

In conjunction with other national laboratories and DOE Joint Genome Institute (JGI), ORNL researchers are advancing means of rapid DNA sequencing that can be used to identify and characterize specific microbial pathogens.

Other ORNL bioscience projects include research on artificial neural network engineering.

ORNL scientists also form a key component of the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSMP), operated primarily by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The SSMP program is designed to ensure that U.S. nuclear weapons remain reliable without detonation testing.

FURTHER READING:

ELECTRONIC:

Environmental Measurements Laboratory. National Security. <http://www.eml.doe.gov/> (March 16, 2003).

United States Department of Energy, Office of Science. National Laboratories and User Facilities. <http://www.sc.doe.gov/Sub/Organization/Map/national_labs_and_userfacilities.htm> (March 23, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Research & Technology. <http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=27&content=374> (March 23, 2003).

SEE ALSO

Argonne National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory
DOE (United States Department of Energy)
Environmental Measurements Laboratory
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)
Los Alamos National Laboratory
NNSA (United States National Nuclear Security Administration)
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Plum Island Animal Disease Center
Sandia National Laboratories

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