Jun 8, 2007

Job Losses Looming for Sandia, LANL

Friday, June 8, 2007
By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer

A House plan to cut U.S. nuclear weapons programs could result in 2,000 lost jobs at New Mexico's two national labs and do "irreparable damage" to national security, two members of the state's congressional delegation warned Thursday.
Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, in a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders, said the cuts would "devastate" Los Alamos National Laboratory's ability to ensure that the nation's nuclear arsenal is safe and reliable.
"These deep cuts are unprecedented in the history of the nuclear weapons program," they wrote to chairman Dave Obey, D-Wis., and Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the ranking Republican member.
Wilson was even more blunt in a telephone interview. "This guts the nuclear weapons programs," she said.
Sandia spokesman Michael Padilla, in a written statement, said the proposed cuts "could result in as much as a $150 million impact to Sandia's nuclear weapons program, including both Sandia New Mexico and California sites."
But Padilla said other programs at Sandia could see a $25 million funding boost for the next fiscal year.
Wilson said that, based on the two labs' own projections, the proposed cuts could result in 1,500 to 2,000 job losses— most of them at LANL.
Other members of the state's congressional delegation, including Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., have also expressed concern.
However, Bingaman's tone in a Thursday statement sounded less alarmed than that of the two House Republicans: He pointed out that this week's vote was an early step in a long process and added that he will continue working to ensure the labs get the money they need.
A staffer for Bingaman has pegged the amount of the proposed cuts lower than Wilson and Pearce, saying that, when compared with the current, fiscal 2007 budget, the cuts to the entire national weapons complex would total $400 million.
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the energy budget that includes significant cuts in U.S. weapons programs. The full House would still need to vote on the measure, while a Senate subcommittee is expected to come up with its own version.
Wilson and Pearce pegged the cuts in the appropriations bill at nearly $500 million for LANL and $100 million for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque when compared with President Bush's proposal.
"These are some of our nation's premier scientists and engineers who have knowledge and experience that is irreplacable," Wilson and Pearce said in their letter.
The letter said that, in the absence of actual nuclear testing, the U.S. has relied on LANL to certify the country's arsenal is safe, secure and reliable.
"This budget would devastate the Stockpile Stewardship program at Los Alamos by reducing the capability to simulate nuclear explosions," the New Mexico members wrote. "If this bill becomes law, Los Alamos will not have the tools needed to assess and certify 80 percent of America's nuclear stockpile without returning to nuclear testing."
LANL spokesman Kevin Roark declined to comment on the specifics of the funding bill but reiterated, "This is the very first step in a long budget process. It's really too early to speculate or to project."
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a member of the appropriations committee, voted against the funding-cut bill but called on LANL to diversify its mission.
"If you really want to talk about national security, we need to be looking toward the future to make sure we're energy-independent," Udall chief of staff Tom Nagle said Thursday. "Tom Udall is trying to make sure the labs compete for all that new money (for energy research)."


Anonymous said...

Pete Domenici gave an interview on our local radio station this morning.

If you didn't hear it on KRSN this morning, listen to it here.

Anonymous said...

This could be a major RIF, up to 1000 FTE. This would, of course, require a major reorganization at LANL. That would mean more PADs, ADs, and DDs. Plus, of course, bonuses for top management.

The real kick in the ass on a major RIF is that severance costs will figure in and will likely deepen the RIF.

Anonymous said...

Severance costs were substantially reduced in the new contract, part of the master plan to screw us.

Anonymous said...

All this “doom and gloom” talk is depressing and very non-productive. It really doesn’t take much horsepower between the ears to make the typical complaint normally read on this blog.

I would like to see an effort where we get some of our braniacs setting their sights on solving aspects of our energy reliance on oil. Couldn’t the lab be refocused on such work? Couldn’t we be challenged with something specific similar to Kennedy’s challenge of putting a man on the moon in ten years?

In WWII, the enemy was the nazis and the problem to solve was how to build the bomb. In the 60’s, the enemy was the communist and the problem to solve was how to beat them to the moon. Now we have terrorists/communists/whackjobs controlling a good part of our energy supply.

Couldn’t we retool the lab to solve some of our energy problems? Couldn’t we be tasked to take on a nearly impossible challenge or challenges in this area? This new effort could become highly visible and set the lab in a positive view not only in congress but in the public eye as well.

Instead of complaining about how bad things are, we should be demonstrating the same type of ingenuity that put this town on the map in the first place.

K. Boland said...

Agree 100%. Shouldn't the lab's "signature facility" be a reactor? We have some of the world's best actinide scientists, neutron physicists, etc. that would be extremely well suited to solving some of the problems associated with nuclear power. A huge research effort should be undertaken to understand all aspects of this abundant source of power. Getting rid of all that excess Pu would be good too.

Anonymous said...

I came from a background in commercial nuclear-electric power production. I'm ready to dust off the skills and come out of the menial facility work I have been doing up the hill.

Anonymous said...

Now this is more like it.

What we need to do, though, is work at the highest levels to seek non DP funding for work like this. That is the real challenge.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 10:01 am too. The signature facility should be a reactor. Unfortunately, none of our "leaders" - supposed actinide chemists, neutron physicists, etc. - are truly looking out for the Lab's future, just themselves and theirown research thiefdomes. No vision. As such, we are doomed.

Anonymous said...

Oh, well. It was looking positive for at least a few comments - then the depressing doomsdayers have to harsh our mellow.

Anonymous said...

So, maybe I'm a flaming optimist but it seems like someone here should be able to respond to the following assertion:

It seems that a new reactor design which is capable of using denatured (formerly weapons grade Pu, rendered extremely difficult to use as a fission weapon or trigger for fusion) to generate electricity might be a worthwhile endeavor.

Is it even conceiveable to come up with such a denaturing process and then a reactor that cannot be easily "abused" in the service of nuclear weapons (but instead in "burning them down")?

Maybe this is a total fantasy (the fail-safe implications) but it seems worth at least considering.