Los Alamos National Laboratory will no longer permit historians and other researchers to have access to its archival records because Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the private contractor that now operates the Lab, says it has "no policy in place" that would allow such access.
"Policies that had previously applied to the University of California relating to the disclosure of information directly to you are no longer applicable," wrote Judy Archuleta of the Los Alamos Information Practices Office to Alex Wellerstein, a graduate student at Harvard.
Mr. Wellerstein had sought copies of Lab records on the history of nuclear secrecy policy and he had been led to believe that access to such material would be granted, in accordance with past practice.
"Because LANS is a private company, the policies that applied [previously] are no longer in place," she said.
"No policy is presently in place that authorizes the direct disclosure of the information you seek," she wrote.
Instead, Mr. Wellerstein was told that he should pursue his research through the Freedom of Information Act.
"The FOIA process, however cumbersome, currently provides the only means of accessing our records," wrote Roger A. Meade, the Los Alamos Archivist/Historian on April 17.
But FOIA requests are poorly suited to archival research since they can easily take years to process and must specify in advance the records that are sought.
In effect, when it comes to historical or other public research, the Los Alamos archives are closed for business.
It's "terrible news" for scholars, said Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist who has studied the culture of the nuclear weapons labs.