By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008; Page A03
The directors of the nation's three national nuclear weapons laboratories say that budget cuts by Congress and the Bush administration have reduced their ability to carry out scientific research needed to reassure the reliability of the nation's nuclear arsenal in future years.
Citing growing financial demands, George H. Miller, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said, "science is being squeezed out," during a meeting yesterday with Washington Post editors and reporters. He said the labs in total had experienced a shortfall of several hundred million dollars in needed funds.
Miller, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael R. Anastasio and Sandia National Laboratories Director Thomas O. Hunter also jointly conveyed that warning at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing yesterday.
The Bush administration is already pursuing a costly restructuring of the U.S. nuclear complex, including many buildings that date from the Manhattan Project of the 1940s. It is also funding the refurbishment of a reduced number of the Cold War-era warheads and bombs and buying costly equipment that can ensure the weapons work without underground testing.
But the administration has been unable to gain congressional approval to develop a new generation of warheads under the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, using old, tested nuclear components. A bipartisan congressional group said the executive branch should decide the number of warheads necessary through the year 2030 before the program can be approved.
Miller said there is a risk of "confidence eroding in the current stockpile" over the next few years if a decision is not made to proceed with the RRW program, which will determine the size of a future weapons complex. The directors also said that Livermore and Los Alamos have lost about 2,000 employees each since 2006, including scientists they wanted to retain.