A Different Kind of Secret

There've always been plenty of secrets in the Secret City.  When I was growing up, I never knew exactly what kind of work my father did.  I still don't and I'm not alone in being mystified by what our parents were up to behind the gates of the nuclear facilities in Oak Ridge. 


 Recently, I attended my 45th high school reunion where I saw my old friend Judy with whom I not only attended high school, but kindergarten and first grade at Glenwood Elementary School in the late 1950s.


 Judy's dad, Sheldon, worked with my dad at K-25 (the Gaseous Diffusion Plant where they enriched uranium using fluorine gas.)  Our fathers were friends as well as co-workers.  Judy said, "Your dad was one of the people my dad talked about until the end.  He had so much respect for your father."  "I know," I replied.  My dad felt the same way about your dad. I remember how he used to say, 'I like Shel Jacobs'."


We were quiet for a moment, reflecting on our dead fathers.  Our silence was abruptly broken when Judy said, "But I don't know what our fathers did.  Do you?"  


"No, not really." I replied.  "I mean, I know some of what they did, and I've found a lot of Daddy's papers on line, some even for sale and I always wonder who's selling his work and why.  But his papers are just numbers to me, pages and pages of calculations that I don't understand."


What I do know is that our fathers made bomb grade uranium, for that was K-25's original task and so remained for at least the first fifteen years of the Cold War.  


Later, in the 60s and 70s, they developed multi level cascades and enriched uranium for other purposes: nuclear power plants, the navy's nuclear fleet, cancer treatments and I don't know what else.


 When Daddy retired, he was the manager over combined operations at K-25 and the nation's other two gaseous diffusion plants located in Paducah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio.


I suppose it goes without saying that Daddy was privy to many nuclear secrets. Sometimes those secrets came home with him in his brief case.  I remember once when I was a teen ager and he went to Walgreens to pick up a prescription.  "Stay in the kitchen and watch my briefcase," he told me.  "Keep the doors locked and don't let anybody in this house."


I didn't think much about it at the time.  Now, as an adult, I'm astounded to contemplate those thirty minutes or so of a slight, teen aged girl left alone to guard nuclear secrets.


I don't know what level of clearance Daddy had.  Clearance was commonplace in Oak Ridge, nothing special. The old Manhattan Project and Cold War warriors of Daddy's generation routinely held secrets that were critical to national security.   


That hasn't changed.  Oak Ridgers still keep secrets crucial to national security.  But there has been one change lately.  In the last year, Oak Ridge has erupted with a team of anonymous bloggers and internet commenters whose malice toward one City Councilwoman in particular is cloaked behind the cowardice of pseudonyms and initials.  This is a new sort of pusillanimous and self serving secretiveness and, in my opinion, an unhealthy development which undermines our sense of community.  


When an anonymous commenter repeatedly calls a City Council member a 'cancer,' that commentary strikes me as malignant.


When anonymous bloggers habitually troll Facebook lifting comments and skewering them for their on line fodder, I think that falls into the category of unneighborly, if not downright anti social behavior.  


It is possible to disagree on public policy and politicians without resorting to anonymous malice and secrecy.  If one is too ashamed of commentary to sign it, perhaps it is not commentary that should be expressed or, at the least, should be expressed differently, with civility.  

My opinion, take what you like and leave the rest.  

Be Well and Good Luck,  

Martha Maria 

Leave a comment

Add comment