Citing Sandia as the model to mimic, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is urging Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio to seek funding to expand non-weapon areas such as nonproliferation, energy security and energy renewables. The issue, Udall said, is the shrinking nuclear weapons footprint in the country.
“The administration has decided it can be shrunk down and still be effective,” he said. “Los Alamos has the biggest share and so it can take the biggest hit of the three labs (LANL, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore). My vision is to try to get the lab to diversify in a number of ways that they are already doing on a small scale.”
Udall said he has spoken with Anastasio about the "Sandia model" on several occasions.
About six years ago, Sandia saw the shrinkage coming and decided to get out in front of it, Udall said, adding they came down from some 75-percent weapons to 50-percent weapons. They’ve done it in such a way that they’re now diversified, so this latest shrinkage is going to be minimal, maybe just 70-80 jobs, he said.
“I told Mike (Anastasio) he needs to get out there and hustle for the lab like Sandia did – to work with various agencies in the government to grow these areas,” Udall said during an interview Wednesday at the Los Alamos Research Park. “He told me he’s the guy to do that.”
Udall was in town for a series of classified briefings during an overview of LANL’s Weapons Programs to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, of which he is a member.
“As I tour the laboratory, what’s evident is we have top-notch scientific staff and great support staff,” Udall said. “Energy security is a huge national security issue now and will be more so in the years to come. I see a thriving future for this lab and I have a vision for making sure there’s a permanence for this lab in playing a role in the important challenges facing this nation. This lab has made a huge contribution to our national security and as we redefine that security, the lab can continue to play a significant role.”
Chair Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., Ranking Member Terry Everett, R-Ala., Undersecretary for Nuclear Security Tom D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration and several congressional staffers made up the Congressional Delegation (CODEL).
Udall commented that he and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., joined the group for a working lunch at the Nicholas C. Metropolis Center for Modeling & Simulation, where they received a security briefing. “We saw how they are trying to secure (classified electronic media) and had a 45-minute briefing from the guy who runs that area,” Udall said.
The group also toured the Super Vault Type Room (VTR) and the old Chemistry & Metallurgy Research facility and its replacement site, he said.
Udall said he and Domenici left the group at about 3 p.m. The rest of the delegation went on to tour the Plutonium Facility before departing for a trip to the Pantex Plant in Amarillo.
During Wednesday’s interview, Udall spoke of his nearly 10 years of service in Congress in which he said he has “proudly and strongly represented LANL and its workers.”
Udall is currently serving his fifth term in Congress, representing New Mexico’s Third Congressional District. He is running for the senate seat coming vacant when Domenici retires next year. He spoke of the vote he cast that other senatorial candidates are trying to use against him. Udall spoke up against abrupt change for the lab and stood up, he said, to restore $200 million to the budget.
“The point was made all the way along, he said, that those cuts were too deep and that it needed to be transitioned,” he said.
There was $600 million in new funding for energy projects in that bill. A month later there was another vote during which time he spoke with the administration, D’Agostino and others and said he was assured the laboratory could compete for some of that money. In knowing that, Udall explained that to him, the vote was about the future of Los Alamos.
“My opponents are pandering to people’s worst fears,” he said of their claiming he voted against the lab. “I voted for the lab’s future because this is where we are going to stabilize the lab and grow additional jobs.”
Udall continues to work with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., to see that LANL has the resources it needs to do its future work. He explained he has always recommended LANL be very generous on their severance plan as an incentive for people to voluntarily retire to minimize or avoid layoffs.
“The thing that’s absolutely clear in listening to the Bush and Cheney administration is that they fully intend to layoff 500-750 people regardless of what happens with the budget – they’ve headed down that road,” Udall said. “My heart truly goes out to families that have a breadwinner who’s going to lose their job. My focus has been that they are taking precautions to give incentives to entice voluntary retirements.”
The Congressional Delegation gathering actually began Tuesday evening with a dinner at La Posada de Santa Fe. Anastasio hosted the meal attended by Don Winchell, National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Site Office Revitalization manager; Jan Van Prooyen, LANL deputy director; Glenn Mara, principal associate director of Weapons Programs; Terry Wallace, principal associate director of Science, Technology and Engineering; Michael Mallory, principal associate director of Operations; Patrick Woehrle, Government Affairs Office leader; and David Lyons, Washington, D.C., Federal Office leader.
“I had an opportunity to spend about an hour talking with these people about the lab and its future,” Udall said. “Mike (Anastasio) said one of the big things is the storage of energy so in peaking periods you can tie that energy into the grid. The lab should play a big part in that. The best scientists in the country are here in Los Alamos and they can solve these challenges if we give them the resources.”