Dec 18, 2007
WASHINGTON — One in five nuclear weapons jobs at New Mexico's two national laboratories would be gone in a decade under a plan by the National Nuclear Security Administration to reduce the size and scope of the nuclear weapons complex for a post-Cold War world.
Most of the jobs would be lost through normal attrition or transfer to other priorities, like nonproliferation, or counterterrorism, said NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino.
None of the eight labs or plants in the nuclear complex would be completely eliminated, but 600 buildings would be shuttered or torn down, the land area reduced by 30 percent, and the total work force of 27,000 cut by 20 to 30 percent.
"We must act now for the future and stop throwing money into our old Cold War weapons complex that is too big and too expensive," said D'Agostino.
Sandia officials said their current work plan is to reduce from 8,338 employees to 7,800 by 2011. Los Alamos has nearly 11,000 employees, including contractors and students, but has announced plans to eliminate up to 750 jobs through buyouts or layoffs.
But the plan also would guarantee a future for both Los Alamos and Sandia by eliminating redundancies at other locations.
For instance, Sandia will keep its Red Storm supercomputer but it will not get one to rival the super-fast Roadrunner at Los Alamos or the BlueGene at Lawrence Livermore in California. Instead, Sandia will be expected to integrate its high performance computing with other laboratories.
"We'll still have a strong high-performance computing presence," said Sandia spokesman Michael Padilla. He said the NNSA plan is consistent with the labs' evolving national security mission.
Los Alamos would remain the only site for the production of plutonium pits that trigger nuclear warheads. Facilities would be upgraded to a capacity of 80 pits a year.
The draft plan effectively drives a stake through the Bush administration's once ambitious plan to build a new center in Nevada or Texas for a new complex to produce up to 125 pits a year.
"NNSA is finally acknowledging reality in the face of repeated defeats in Congress," said Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico.
But Coghlan also questioned whether NNSA needs to make 80 pits a year in the light of another administration defeat in Congress this week appropriators halted production funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead.
D'Agostino said the transformation of the complex is needed regardless of the future of the Reliable Replacement Warhead.
The catch-all spending bill working through Congress this week halts development of the warhead, leaving only $15 million for continuation of any research on advanced designs.
Los Alamos and Livermore would remain competitors in designing nuclear weapons under the NNSA plan but Los Alamos would be the premier site for plutonium research.
Los Alamos Director Michael Anastasio said the selection "confirms that Los Alamos is first and foremost a science R&D laboratory."
Much of the plan is driven by the need to reduce the cost of guarding the weapons laboratories and plants, which according to NNSA officials has rocketed from about $200 million pre-9/11 to almost $700 million a year.
For instance, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Y-12 plant, where uranium bomb parts are manufactured, the size of the plant's footprint would be reduced by almost 90 percent and the work force cut by 30 percent.