A contract worker arrested Thursday on charges of stealing classified nuclear secrets from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to sell to foreign governments pleaded not guilty in a federal court.
Roy Lynn Oakley, 67, of Roane County, Tenn., was arrested in January after he allegedly tried to sell the sensitive material to undercover FBI agents, officials said. None of the data made it out of the country or was transmitted to criminal or terrorist groups, officials said.
Oakley entered the plea before a federal judge in Knoxville, Tenn. He was charged with two counts of possessing hardware used in uranium enrichment. He could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
His lawyer, Herb Moncier, said Oakley never took anything important from the site. Moncier said government lawyers, referring to the hardware items, "say they are 'appliances.' We say they are trash."
Oakley worked as a low-level contractor for Bechtel Jacobs Co. at the East Tennessee Technology Park. The park is a cleanup site that once housed the government's gaseous diffusion plant used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, the Energy Department said.
Officials said the suspect managed to sneak information and material — including tubes used in the uranium enrichment process — out of the lab and into his trailer home. Those items were found in January.
Officials hinted to FOX News that debt may have led the man to attempt to smuggle the nuclear secrets.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory. It was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, the nation's secret program to develop a nuclear bomb during World War II.
The East Tennessee Technology Park is a former K-25 uranium-enrichment site.
"We're dealing with an issue of obvious sensitivity. I can't discuss it," said Billy Stair, a spokesman for the Oak Ridge lab. He said there would be a statement by the U.S. Attorney's office later Thursday.
The indictment marks the second leak of classified information from sensitive Energy Department sites in the last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.