Featured Oak Ridge City Council member Jim Dodson, from left, and Tennessee Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, talk to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee at an event at New Hope Center before the groundbreaking for a new training center that will help first responders train for nuclear situations.

Published on November 3rd, 2021 📆 | 5573 Views ⚑

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Breaking ground on Oak Ridge Enhanced Technology and Training Center

Officials broke ground Thursday, Oct. 28, on a federal- and state-funded training center that will provide first responder training and technology demonstrations in response to nuclear emergencies.

Called the Oak Ridge Enhanced Technology and Training Center, it will be constructed on the west end of Oak Ridge adjacent to Oak Ridge Turnpike. It’s expected to be complete by 2023, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration news release.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony was Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee who addressed the press and officials at the New Hope Center Auditorium.

This is a rendering of a proposed training center for first responders in Oak Ridge.

“The Oak Ridge Enhanced Technology Training Center creates yet another opportunity for Tennessee to be a global leader in nuclear energy,” said Lee, who called the new center “cutting edge.” In a press release, he said, he looked forward to welcoming first responders and experts to the new center and pioneering best practices for nuclear safety.

“We, in this state, want to be committed to the next generation of power generation. That includes nuclear,” he said in his speech at the auditorium, which is part of Y-12 National Security Complex. He added that  nuclear power is of “increasing importance in this country,” which leads to an increased need for nuclear security training.

The governor said the center will help both the energy sector and the nuclear weapons sector.

A video shown at the event stated the $35.1 million facility is funded by the state and federal governments. Congress has appropriated $20 million, while the state of Tennessee has appropriated $18 million. Some of that funding — $2.9 million — will also help the city of Oak Ridge create the Science and Energy Education Meeting Center near the current American Museum of Science and Energy in the Main Street Oak Ridge development, the video stated.

A group of officials lines up for a ceremonial

When asked about why the state had committed funds to the project, Lee told reporters he supports training first responders, but he also supports drawing in more sales tax revenue and jobs to Tennessee.

ORTTEC is estimated to create more than 100 ongoing jobs, $40 million in annual income and $2 million in sales tax revenue, according to the video. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 annual visits to the center are anticipated, which is expected to generate “thousands” of dollars in hotel and sales tax revenue.

ORETTC will be home to the Simulated Nuclear and Radiological Activities Facility, which will reportedly train those responsible for safeguarding nuclear and radioactive material with the latest nuclear security, detection, and nonproliferation technologies. That same facility will also train first responders and other experts in nuclear operations, safeguards, cyber and emergency response. 

The ORETTC will also include Tennessee’s Emergency Response Training Facility, which is being funded by the state and developed by Roane County. It is expected to provide first responder training for state and local personnel. It will have offices for full-time teaching staff members, augmented reality and virtual reality rooms, as well as traditional classrooms.

Michelle Reichert, Consolidated Nuclear Security president and CEO, stands at the construction site of a future training center for first responders in Oak Ridge.

Michelle Reichart, president and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Security, which runs Y-12 National Security Complex, told reporters she expects it to host fire departments, military, the FBI and even overseas partners working on these types of security. 

Tennessee Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, Roane County Executive Ron Woody and Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson spoke before the event to “kick off” construction, which is already underway, while U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Third District, spoke via a video. Kasia Mendelsohn, acting deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), also spoke at the Oak Ridge event.

“A key NNSA nonproliferation mission is ensuring that nuclear and radioactive material is protected from use in an act of terror,” Mendelsohn stated in a news release. “This facility allows us to integrate more state-of-the-art technology into our training and gives us room to expand our efforts in other areas.”

Robert Kennedy, chairman of Oak Ridge Environmental Quality Advisory Board, has criticized the project for having to cut down new trees rather than choosing an already cleared site like the nearby Horizon Center.

This image shows the proposed first responder training center is 0.4 miles from the Forest Creek Village housing development, although Gum Hollow Road lies between the two.

However, Morris Hassler, senior director of Global Security & Strategic Partnership for CNS, told The Oak Ridger that the project’s budget did nor allow for renting or buying new land, which would have been necessary if it was located at the Horizon Center.

Ben Pounds is a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.

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