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From July 12, 2004, News-Sentinel

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Bush tours Oak Ridge lab

By Frank Munger
Scripps Howard News Service

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. - President Bush delivered a 35-minute talk Monday that defended the administration's campaign against terror after he inspected crates of nuclear-weapons parts and equipment, including gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment, from Libya.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," he said.

The president cited positive developments in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. relationship with Pakistan.

After each major point in his speech, Bush came back with the same refrain: "The American people are safer."

The president said that America remains a nation at war and there would be tough times ahead. He noted the difficult situations in North Korea and Iraq.

But he also cited positive examples, such as the United States' having 60 nations supporting it on nonproliferation issues, 30 nations supporting it in Iraq and 40 in Afghanistan.

"We have duties and there will be difficult times ahead," he said.

The United States will not forget Sept. 11, 2001, he said."We will not allow our enemies to forget it, either."

Bush's speech came after he inspected crates of nuclear-weapons parts and equipment, including gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment, from Libya. The equipment and material were taken out of Libya following a U.S. deal with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Dozens of crates of material were taken to the Fuel Reprocessing and Robotics area, about three miles east of the main Oak Ridge National Laboratory complex, for the president to see.

Accompanying the president were National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

The equipment was brought from the Y-12 nuclear-weapons plant, where it and nuclear-related materials are being stored. The first shipment arrived in Oak Ridge in late January, and other loads came later, although officials have declined to specify contents or arrival dates.

Bush's quick visit is meant to underscore the administration's effort and determination to defeat terrorism.

On his way out of the Oak Ridge complex, he got out of his car and shook hands with dozens of employees who were lining the streets. He also signed autographs.

The president, dressed in a navy-blue suit and red tie, deplaned to greet his guests.

A nine-vehicle motorcade sped him away to Oak Ridge, about 20 miles west. Along the route the president was cheered by hundreds of people, some holding American flags.

At the gates of the Y-12 National Security Complex, about 30 anti-Bush protesters gathered with signs and banners denouncing administration policies.

Protesters carried signs opposing nuclear-weapons development at Oak Ridge, the war in Iraq and the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

More protesters gathered in downtown Knoxville around noon.

Oak Ridge is a U.S. Department of Energy lab that conducts research in nearly all fields of science. The lab employs about 3,800 people and has an annual budget approaching $1 billion. The sprawling complex houses a number of one-of-a-kind research facilities that are used by scientists from around the nation and many foreign countries.

The government's Oak Ridge facilities have supported the administration efforts, including a recent project that airlifted Iraqi nuclear materials out of harm's way and brought them to the United States for safekeeping. Oak Ridge technicians supported the nuclear mission, and some of the highly radioactive sources - rounded up in Iraq over the past year - reportedly are being stored and analyzed at Oak Ridge.

Abraham and other administration officials said terrorists could use the radioactive sources to create radiation dispersal devices - so-called "dirty" bombs. The Iraqi sources apparently are common nuclear devices that use cobalt-60, cesium-137 or other radioactive material to conduct industrial scans or medical analysis and therapy. Critics at the United Nations and elsewhere have said the transfer effort may have been illegal. Others suggested the project was needlessly hyped for political publicity.

Oak Ridge has been in the national spotlight regularly during the Bush administration.

The $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source, the nation's largest science project, is under construction a couple of miles from the main ORNL campus. The construction work is more than two-thirds complete, and the project remains on time and within its budget.

The Spallation Neutron Source was initially approved and funded during the Clinton administration, and then-Vice President Al Gore attended the groundbreaking in late 1999. The project, however, has continued to draw strong support during the Bush administration, which has recommended full funding for the Oak Ridge project in each year's federal budget.

First operation of the research complex, where scientists will study the basic structure of materials, is scheduled for mid-2006.

ORNL also is heading the U.S. initiative to regain supremacy in supercomputing.

The project has been in development for the past couple of years, and DOE in May tabbed Oak Ridge as the winner of a national competition to build the world's fastest computer. ORNL is working in conjunction with Cray Corp., and officials predict the Cray X1 - or its immediate successor, the X2 - will surpass the calculating speed of Japan's Earth Simulator by late 2005 or early 2006.

The Earth Simulator is capable of about 40 trillion calculations per second or 40 teraflops.

(Contact Frank Munger of The Knoxville News-Sentinel in Tennessee at http://www.knoxnews.com.)

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