Jun 27, 2008
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Los Alamos National Laboratory needs to reach beyond the nuclear weapons program to find the money to support its national security work, lab director Michael Anastasio said Thursday.
At a time of shrinking nuclear weapons budgets, the lab must pursue work outside the weapons program to support the lab's scientific base, according to Anastasio.
Anastasio's comments came during a briefing Thursday morning for lab employees and in subsequent news media briefings.
The new approach involves seeking out work for agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and the energy research arm of the Department of Energy.
That type of work already makes up $700 million a year of the lab's $2 billion-plus budget, Anastasio said, and is rising at 10 percent annually.
Nuclear weapons work has been the heart of Los Alamos' mission since it was founded during World War II to build the first atomic bombs. But with decreasing federal support for weapons work, Anastasio said the lab must diversify its base of support in order to maintain the supercomputers, laboratory space and personnel needed to tackle whatever problems of national importance the federal government needs the lab to solve.
Anastasio's comments Thursday coincided with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman's announcement of an initiative to broaden the national security mission of Los Alamos and its sister nuclear weapons labs, Sandia in Albuquerque and Lawrence Livermore in California, along with the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear materials testing is done.
Bodman's announcement reflects a consensus among the managers of the labs and the test site that their mission should not be limited to nuclear weapons, but “rather is one encompassing the full spectrum of national security interests,” according to an announcement of the plan.
Anastasio's comments and the new Energy Department initiative reflect an approach that has already been successful at Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia in recent years has been buffered from the effects of nuclear weapons budget cuts by expanded work in other areas, especially for the intelligence community and the Pentagon's non-nuclear military programs.
Los Alamos, meanwhile, has cut some 2,300 people from its work force in recent years, according to Anastasio.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., praised the new initiatives, but cautioned that achieving the goal of scientific diversification would not be easy.
Domenici has voiced concerns that plans to shrink the U.S. nuclear weapons complex did not take into account the importance of the labs' scientific capabilities.
“I've always believed that the scientific capabilities at our labs have broad applications, but those capabilities require investments in computing, science and infrastructure,” Domenici said in a statement. “Secretary Bodman's commitment is welcomed but we obviously have ongoing challenges to meet it.”