By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
June 12, 2007
A nuclear-weapons watchdog group is blasting U.S. Rep. Tom Udall for opposing looming budget cuts at Los Alamos National Laboratory. New Mexico Republicans, meanwhile, are laying into the Santa Fe Democrat for not doing enough to stop those cuts.
Udall has voiced opposition to the proposed spending slowdown, which some New Mexico lawmakers warn could result in an undetermined number of layoffs by one of the region’s major employers.
But Udall supports diverting the lab’s mission toward more energy research. Most work done at Los Alamos is related to weapons or national security.
That work employs thousands of voters and supports numerous businesses in Udall’s district, which includes all Northern New Mexico.
Udall has raised concerns about the 2008 budget covering the U.S. Department of Energy, which includes Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico.
Democrats in Congress want less weapons spending and more energy research and basic science. The House Appropriations Committee has already allocated more money toward those areas of federal spending.
A vote by the full House is expected today. The Senate, which often puts more money into lab programs, is expected to release its version of the bill later this month. And the president must also approve the measure before it becomes law.
It’s unclear how much could ultimately be cut from Los Alamos at this point in the appropriations process.
Staffers for U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Los Alamos could lose $500 million compared to the president’s 2008 fiscal year budget request. That includes slashing funds for construction of a nuclear chemistry lab, plutonium pit manufacturing and advanced simulation computing, among other programs.
But Don Hancock of the Southwest Research Information Center said the cuts will be less than $500 million.
Currently, 12,176 full-time and contract workers are employed at the Los Alamos lab. That includes 9,066 permanent workers, 1,090 students and researchers, and 2,020 contractors, the lab has reported.
Udall said the private company that manages the lab, Los Alamos National Security LLC, must diversify its mission to compete for the new energy research money.
“The national labs are in a great position to tackle those challenges and make a contribution, and I hope to see the lab do more of that type of work in the future,” Udall said in a recent interview.
While New Mexico Republicans ripped into Udall for not doing enough to stop the cuts, anti-nuclear-weapons activists like Greg Mello at the Los Alamos Study Group say Udall is implicitly supporting President Bush’s pro-nuclear agenda, and he’s trying to have it both ways.
Mello and New Mexico Republicans have launched public attacks laying into Udall’s maneuvering on the matter.
“Udall has no cop out in this matter,” Adam Feldman, director of the New Mexico Republican Party, said in an unusual broadside last week. “Make no mistake — this is a failure on the part of Tom Udall, and it affects one of the largest employers in New Mexico and a very vital part of our economy and national security.”
Mello sent out an “action alert” to his group’s 2,100-person mailing list, urging them to lobby Udall to vote for the House Appropriations Bill.
“We’re disappointed that Tom Udall is not supporting this markup, which moves money out of nuclear weapons and into renewable energy,” Mello said. “This is exactly the kind of thing … he has said he stands for. And there is no other way to get renewable energy money in the (Department of Energy) budget than by taking it out of something. And that something is nuclear weapons.”
Mello also questioned the impact of the lab on New Mexico’s economy, and said he supports spending that money elsewhere.
Udall’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that the congressman’s office does not respond to attacks from the Republican Party, “and you’d have to be living in a fantasy world to think what Tom Udall did last week is somehow supporting the status quo regarding weapons programs,” spokeswoman Marissa Padilla said. “Tom Udall must be doing something right when he’s getting hit from the right and left, but he’s going to continue fighting for the future of the lab and Northern New Mexico by working to diversify the lab’s mission and making sure the lab’s outstanding scientists can compete fairly for all this new money.”
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.