Feb 6, 2008

New Mexico Weapon Laboratories Seek Steady Funding


The U.S. Energy Department has asked lawmakers to provide roughly the same funding for U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories in New Mexico as they currently receive, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 5).

This week’s fiscal 2009 budget request calls for $1.85 billion to support activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory and $1.4 billion at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia would receive $30 million in additional funding from this financial year while money for Los Alamos would drop by $10 million (Fleck/Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 5).

The request moves funding for controversial plutonium programs at Los Alamos into different accounts, potentially confusing observers, one critic told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The laboratory currently receives more than $200 million to produce new plutonium cores for nuclear weapons, a program known as the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign (see GSN, Nov. 16, 2007).

This year’s request zeroes out funding for that line item but raises proposed funding for three related projects by about the same amount, according to Greg Mello, head of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group. That could make it more difficult to follow the money, he said.

“The problem we face is getting Congress’ attention in an election year,” he said. “The House has killed this project three times and deeply cut it twice.”

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman (D) expressed concerns about Bush administration plans to make Los Alamos a major pit-making site.

“I’ve always taken the position that Los Alamos is capable of pit production, and I don’t have a problem with maintaining that capability,” he said. “But if we’re going to significantly increase production, I think we should look at a site other than Los Alamos” (Sue Vorenberg, Santa Fe New Mexican, Feb. 4).

Meanwhile, the Energy Department requested $494.7 million to further activities at a Nevada site intended to house high-level nuclear waste generated by U.S. nuclear power plants, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported (see GSN, Jan. 16).

Lawmakers from the state have long fought the plan to store the waste in tunnels below Yucca Mountain.

“Despite the fact Congress cut his proposal by $108 million last year, President [George W.] Bush requested $495 million again this year,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Clearly, he will not get that funding.”

Reid’s fellow Nevada senator agreed.

“On Yucca Mountain, the president’s budget request will not be met,” said Senator John Ensign (R) (Tetreault/Batt, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Feb. 5).


Anonymous said...

In Terry's talk last week, he mentioned the need to get rid of an additional 5% to 7% of staff (~600 staffers), so LANS can create a strategic "wedge" of new hires to fulfill his dreams of the new and improved LANL.

I wonder how long it will be till we hear of a RIF to clear out these 600 staffers to make room for the cheap new hires?

Anonymous said...

I saw the same talk. I had to laugh when Terry said LANL would be reducing program costs by about 20% over the next few years. It will never happen. To do so would require: (a) reducing the amount of support, and (b) reducing our bloated managerial staff, of which Terry is a member.

LANL managers like to take the lazy way out. Whenever there is a new budgetary problem they just stick it to the programs as a new program tax. That way the budget problems get dumped on others and the top managers don't have to make hard decisions. It's been that way for a long time and I doubt it will ever change, even if this style of lazy management brings about the death of the lab.

Anonymous said...

"wedge" of new hires"

You mean PIT people. A BA degree is really all you need. It will pay a bit better than WallMart.

Now all you PIT people do not get on my case for being a jerk! Hell it will be your town soon enough and you will be the people who count.

I can see it now, hords of pit people chasing down scientists, screaming "it is our time!" There will be a statue of Nanos the saint that saved us from the scourge of "science". You get the point.

Anonymous said...

Terry has created 3 new Centers which he says will re-invigorate science and grow our project base at LANL. There's a center for Bio-Security, one for Energy, and one for Information Science.

However, at the same time he rolled out these 3 new Centers, he also denigrated the whole idea of doing WFOs, so it's not clear who he thinks is going to pay for the work of these Centers.

In discussing WFOs, Terry said something to the effect of "We'll never be like Sandia. I don't want this lab to be a place that just produces widgets". This was my clue that Terry has absolutely no idea how to grow the project base at LANL. SNL does far more than just produce 'widgets'. Besides, what are pits, but the ultimate 'widget'!