Feb 19, 2008

Ranks of Nuclear Experts Dwindle

Few Replacements for Forensic Specialists When They Retire
By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page A04

Two leading U.S. scientific groups warned yesterday that, in the next 15 years, as many as half of the nation's relatively few experts in identifying smuggled nuclear materials and detonated-bomb components may retire.

The pipeline of young researchers who could replace the nation's 35 to 50 nuclear specialists is almost empty, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science said in a new report at the association's annual meeting in Boston. They called for an invigorated program of university-research funding, more graduate school and laboratory positions in related disciplines, and new incentives for industry support of university positions.

The study's authors, led by Michael May, director emeritus of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said that boosting U.S. nuclear forensics capability will help deter the black-market smuggling of nuclear materials or a nuclear detonation in a city.

Nuclear forensics can be used to trace the source components of a bomb to the government that produced them and potentially to the experts behind such an attack, subjecting them to the prospect of quick retaliation, the 64-page report said. "A credible . . . capability may deter some who are principally motivated by financial, rather than ideological, concerns," the report added.

The scientists' report called for the development of faster and more accurate field equipment, as well as modeling and simulation technologies; the creation of a comprehensive sample-matching database of nuclear materials; national simulations; and the establishment of independent expert panels to measure progress and advise the U.S. government in case of an emergency.

[View the press release and related links here.]

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

"as many as half of the nation's relatively few experts in identifying smuggled nuclear materials and detonated-bomb components may retire."

Oh my God!! We had better start designing and testing new warheads so we have trained experts.

The sky is always falling.

Eric said...

My thought on this article, since I have a daughter who is a Ph.D. candidate and a future son in law who is a graphics computer scientist (both of whom worked summers at LANL), is

"Why would any smart ambitious scientist in their twenties choose to work at a weapons lab?"

Anyone got an answer?

Anonymous said...

Eric:

Let me add to your thoughts - Why would any smart, educated person want to work at any DOE lab? I do not have a Ph.D., however, I am aware of the amount of time and dedication one puts into achieving this level of education. Why anyone would want to have their future subject to the whims of idiot politicians and Washington in general is beyond me.

We do need these types of folks, probably now more than ever, but for the life of me, I can not fault them for not choosing to work in an environment like this.

Anonymous said...

That’s why some of us went away. Thanks for the winning ticket. (UC) Believe it or not, some of us do, and did care, and still do. Both my kids have advnaced degrees from UC schools. Thank you UC sincerely . But I have told them you do not want to work here, like my Dad did for 45 years and myself for 30.
Thanks for the 30 you gave me. I truly loved it and miss it. It is gone. FOR "PROFIT" LANS LLC

Anonymous said...

"Why would any smart, educated person want to work at any DOE lab?"

Mostly for the money and benefits. As much as people like to whine about it, they are pretty good. Assistant professor = ~$60k plus the headache of a tenure package and review. If salaries drop to that level you would then see a mass exodus from LANL.

Industry can be competitive but you'll be competing against mostly B.S. or M.S. engineering students right out of school who will undercut you on salary. Ph.D. is overkill for most everything outside of a university or national lab.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, when was the last f-in time anyone in senior management supported anything science-related to nuclear. LDRD sure doesn't. All Preidorsky and ADs care about are their own programs and projects and not what is important to the Lab or the country. As case in point, why did the ADs-POAds/Mikey support Priedorsky's initiative to cut the M&S budget for PDs from a whopping-fully-burdened $20K to $10K. Honestly, actions speak louder than words and this unambiguously demonstrates what these two-faced over-promoted twats truly think about recruiting the next generataion. I wish they would not lie to the press and to us.

Anonymous said...

6:35 pm: "I can not fault them for not choosing to work in an environment like this."

Completely agree. Also, "not choosing to work" is very similar to "not choosing to work any longer." Expect the "drain" to accelerate.

Anonymous said...

"Why would any smart, educated person want to work at any DOE lab?"

How dare you infer DOE/NNSA does not pay it's talents well!... We have ex/wantabe cops all over the NNSA Weapons complex making $90-110K year just for being Security Guards. Surely our best and brightest make 2-3X this pittance!

Willie the Weapons Designer said...

"Why would any smart, educated person want to work at any DOE lab?"

We don't do it for the money. We do it in service to our country, for an important noble cause....

Anonymous said...

9:22 pm: "We don't do it for the money. We do it in service to our country, for an important noble cause..."

Which is???

Anonymous said...

9:22 pm: "We don't do it for the money. We do it in service to our country, for an important noble cause..."

Which is???
===============

You don't think that someone who is
trained and ready to respond in case of
nuclear terrrorism is doing a
service to the USA?

A suggestion for your reading list;
"Nuclear Terrorism" by Prof Graham
Allison. [ Prof Allison of the JFK
School of Government at Harvard was
an advisor to Sen John Kerry during
his 2004 campaign].

Or read the transcript of former UCLA
Chancellor Dr. Albert Carnesale's
speech "Rethinking National Security":

http://www.ucnuclearfree.org/articles/
2002/02/22_carnesale_rethinking-
national-security.pdf

As per Carnesale, a nuclear weapon can
fit in the trunk or your Toyota.

The threat is REAL!!

Anonymous said...

> Which is???

National Security, you dummy.
Yeah, that's it...

Anonymous said...

The good news is only half of the nation's nuclear weapons experts will retire. The bad news is 80% of them should have retired 10 years ago. It's just that 70 year old cold-war warriors refusing to let go of the cash cow teets of the military industrial complex too often end up starting fights that 20 year olds end up dying over. Maybe it's time to put away the boxing gloves old timers.

Anonymous said...

9:48 am: "cash cow teets of the military industrial complex"

LOL!! Let me guess - you're a 60-ish gray-bearded ex-hippie who drives a 10-year old Subaru and doesn't wash very often. Nobody talks like that anymore, Pops.

Anonymous said...

> 60-ish
> gray-bearded
> 10-year old Subaru
> doesn't wash very often

Sounds like a LANL physicist!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2/19/08 8:41 PM writes:

"How dare you infer DOE/NNSA does not pay it's talents well!... We have ex/wantabe cops all over the NNSA Weapons complex making $90-110K year just for being Security Guards. Surely our best and brightest make 2-3X this pittance!"

This person is clearly not a LANL employee. The typical salary for a mid-career PhD physicist at LANL is about $120K. Managers and very senior highly-aclaimed people make more. But few (<10) non-management TSMs make more than $200K.

Anonymous said...

Less than 60, no grey hair, just over 55. Thanks.
For "Profit"

Anonymous said...

"This person is clearly not a LANL employee. The typical salary for a mid-career PhD physicist at LANL is about $120K. Managers and very senior highly-aclaimed people make more. But few (<10) non-management TSMs make more than $200K."

That was my the point 2/20/08 2:45 PM :) ...I'll try to do better next time :)

You're correct about me not being a LANL employee but you do know that LANL salaries have been a matter of public record for some time. The link for this information has been posted on this site previously.

Anonymous said...

And to bring the salaries in perspective, investment firms back east (who are headhunting for scientists with CS background at LANL) offer $250k+ as startup salary. Sure, LANL doen't pay bad but if someone is for money s/he wouldn't become scientist in the first place.

Anonymous said...

"Why would any smart ambitious scientist in their twenties choose to work at a weapons lab?"

LANL's Glory Days are over. Working at a place just for the pay and benefits where moral is at rock bottom levels is not the answer.

Many scientists on LANL's staff have long since lost any passion for their jobs at the lab. The micro-management and crazy new policies are making it harder to accomplish any real work.

It's sad to watch this whole scenario unfold. If I were a young, bright scientist I would look elsewhere for my career.

Even NNSA has told LANL that they plan to chop off 20% of the staff in the next few years. This is not the place to be if you value your sanity or a productive career.

Anonymous said...

"investment firms back east (who are headhunting for scientists with CS background at LANL) offer $250k+ as startup salary"

And after you consider a factor of 2 increase in cost of living in NYC, it's not as great as it sounds.

Anonymous said...

4:55 am: " LANL salaries have been a matter of public record for some time. The link for this information has been posted on this site previously."

Yeah, that was true under UC, by California law. It came to a screeching halt under LANS. Salaries are no longer public, as is true of most if not all for-profit corporations.

Anonymous said...

"It's sad to watch this whole scenario unfold. If I were a young, bright scientist I would look elsewhere for my career. "

Amen to that. I rode out the storm for a few years and finally threw in the towel and said screw that after LANS came along. It took a while to accept that, regardless of the "doing it for my country" reasoning for continuing along, I realized that nobody, especially within the lab and DOE management hierarchy, actually gave a damn that early career people were willing and ready to step up and do the work. They instead treated people like shit. So, like many of my early-career peers, I left. It was a sad decision, but there's only so much one can take before you realize that it ain't going to get better.

Anonymous said...

9:38 pm: Good for you - I'm glad you found the means to leave. I joined LANL (then LASL) as a postdoc and retired (i.e., escaped) last year. Over 30 years, I saw my Laboratory get trashed over and over again, and the only Lab Directors who could offer resistance to the assholes or real leadership to the workers got sacked. Good riddance to that place. I managed to call it a career. You couldn't make that work, and I doubt anybody else will either.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be plenty of early career PhD's (postdocs and early TSM's) who are willing to work at LANL for the "lifestyle" it provides. Come in at 8:30, leave at 4:30, alternate Fridays off. Long lunch hour. Skiing, hiking, rock climbing on weekends. Laid-back Santa Fe lifestyle. Publish? Who cares, that's not really rewarded anymore at LANL.

If your postdoc mentor or the senior TSM who's paying your salary objects to your lack of work ethic, you run to management and claim unsafe working conditions. Or that they are putting too much pressure on you. Work-life balance, baby! They should be GRATEFUL to have someone as brilliant as you on their staff. And it's only because the LDRD committees are too stoopid (or biased, or inbred) to understand your brilliance that you don't have your own funding and research group so you don't have to put up with this bullshit mistreatment.

Ah... the Millenial generation. Can't work with them, can't shoot them.

Anonymous said...

"It was a sad decision, but there's only so much one can take before you realize that it ain't going to get better." (9:38 PM)


Yes, indeed. Once you finally accept the reality of LANL's situation the path is pretty clear.

I no longer believe that even our Director or our many PADs and ADs really care about the long term outcome of the destructive processes that are now at work at LANL. The place continues to go downhill. There is no long term plan to get us out of this funk. The best LANS and NNSA can dig up as a vision is a new Pit Factory for LANL. That, plus lots of future layoffs and cuts and spending caps for the staff. Wow, what a vision!

Anonymous said...

8:33 AM - yeah, I hear you! And if you don't write their papers for them and pay them at least $120K per year, they cry discrimination! HR and Staff Relations will climb all over you ass for making these millenials work for a penny...

Anonymous said...

8:33 AM, OMG you hit the nail on the head! Please don't forget about the other after hour work activities that start at 5pm (required for the SF lifestyle) or the demands to be put up for distinguished performance awards or interim raises. If you don't, you will promptly find yourself reported to staff relations for abusing your postdocs or students - just ask Cremers or Kiplinger. There is no accountability anymore. All gone to hell and more reporting is needed on this topic.

Anonymous said...

7:09 PM, sounds like ADCLES - you are "so" right.

Anonymous said...

7:47

Kiplinger, maybe.

Cremers - you gotta be kidding. The girl got laser shot in the eye when she followed Cremer's explicit instructions.

PS - the PD's are pretty whiny.

Anonymous said...

"Publish? Who cares, that's not really rewarded anymore at LANL."

I hope this is not true.

Anonymous said...

"I hope this is not true."

Depends on where you are. I know for sure that where I was, publications had minimal effect on any sort of 'reward', either yearly review score or actual raises. This was fine if you never, ever published, but a bit insulting to those who do, especially after strong years with a bunch of papers.

Anonymous said...

"nobody, especially within the lab and DOE management hierarchy, actually gave a damn that early career people were willing and ready to step up and do the work. They instead treated people like shit. "

Get real. Management and staffers alike treat everyone like shit, not just early career. Heck, some early career staff are as nasty and backstabbing as they come, too... though to be fair, it is hard to know whether they were like that before coming here.

As for valuing papers, try writing papers in some parts of the Lab, and people want to know why you're not working. Of course those same people will claim that their work sets the gold standard, and they are just too darned busy to ever write it up.

Anonymous said...

"..As per Carnesale, a nuclear weapon can fit in the trunk or your Toyota...."

Damn. Next time I'm renting a Honda.

Scared shirtless

Anonymous said...

"..As per Carnesale, a nuclear weapon can fit in the trunk or your Toyota...."

A nuclear powered Prius, gotta hand it to those Japanese engineers.