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March 29, 2022 | Tom Ballard

PART 3: Jim Campbell has nothing but an optimistic outlook for the Oak Ridge

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final article in a three-part series chronicling the professional life and observations of Jim Campbell, the long-time President of the East Tennessee Economic Council, who is retiring at the end of this month. He will be honored later today at a reception in Oak Ridge.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Jim Campbell has nothing but an optimistic outlook for the Oak Ridge region as he prepares to stepdown in days after a more than 26-year career as President of the East Tennessee Economic Council (ETEC).

As noted in an earlier article in this series, he says, “This community is well-positioned to compete for new (federal) missions.” That was not the case at the time that Campbell started his ETEC role, but it is today, thanks to investments in the federal facilities along with strong performance by those contractors who were charged with delivering results.

Jim Campbell

“S & T will be at the forefront,” he says in referencing the region’s strong science and technology base anchored by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). From modernized facilities to a world-class workforce and ever-developing new innovations, the region is ready to answer almost any technology challenge.

Those assets include ORNL’s high-performance computing facility that consistently houses the first or second fastest computer in the world, the under construction Uranium Processing Facility that will support critical missions at the Y-12 National Security Complex in a modern facility, and ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility with capabilities to drive the development of new materials, software, and systems for advanced manufacturing.

An area of emphasis for Campbell and ETEC over the years has been emerging energy sectors. From the series of “Nuclear Suppliers Workshops” to the more recent “Fusion Innovation Forum,” ETEC has convened groups from around the nation and the world to discuss the latest developments. Each of those sessions has elevated the visibility of Oak Ridge and its assets.

Campbell takes great pride in four recent announcements related to the nuclear sector. Those include:

  • General Fusion, a global leader in fusion energy technology development, has selected Oak Ridge as the headquarters for its U.S. operations (see recent article here);
  • Kairos Powerwill be investing $100 million and creating 55 jobs in the Heritage Center (former site of the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant) as part of a major effort to deploy a low-power demonstration reactor (see recent article here);
  • Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation(USNC) which licensed a novel method to 3D-print components for nuclear reactors and will locate its new Pilot Fuel Manufacturing facility at the Heritage Center in Oak Ridge (see recent article here); and
  • The announcement last month that the Tennessee Valley Authority will invest in a major program that will explore the construction of multiple advanced nuclear reactors, starting with a small modular reactor at its Clinch River site (see TVA news release here).

In addition to these developments, Campbell stresses that the region is particularly poised to address the nuclear needs of the U.S. Navy, will likely play a role in the resurrection of the nuclear fuel business and the production of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, and is a leader in instruments and control technologies for new nuclear facilities.

“(Medical) Isotopes are our past, but they could also be our future” he adds, noting that TerraPower, backed by Bill Gates, has a presence at ORNL as it explores many areas including the use of material stored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for treatment of cancer patients. ORNL has a big radioisotope business and Coqui Pharma has purchased land at ETTP to build an isotope facility.

As we concluded our interview, Campbell shared with us an experience where the then reporter for The Oak Ridger was summoned to the office of Clyde Hopkins, then President of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems. Campbell had written a critical article where he said it cost $328 to replace a light bulb at one of the DOE buildings that Lockheed Martin managed.

Hopkins had a staff member take the young reporter to the building which turned out to be five stories tall, and the light fixture where the bulb was replaced was in the ceiling. Campbell saw firsthand why it cost so much. Lockheed Martin, and other community leaders made a point to help him learn about the federal operations first hand.

“Everything has been a learning experience, and it changes every week,” he says in reflecting on nearly four decades of living, working, and championing Oak Ridge.

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