Aug 12, 2008
LOS ALAMOS — When Bob Kuckuck heard people invoking the name of St. Pete as problems arose at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he figured they were talking about "some religious icon the Spaniards introduced here 200 years ago."
It didn't take long after his 2005 arrival as lab director, though, for him to realize that the patron being mentioned with reverence was not really a saint, was Italian, and went to the U.S. Senate to represent New Mexico, well, maybe a little less than 200 years ago.
At least that's the story Kuckuck told Monday when employees and administrators gathered on the Hill to shower Republican Sen. Pete Domenici with plaques, gifts, gratitude and the renaming of the National Security Sciences Building auditorium after him. Domenici is retiring when his term ends in January after serving 36 years in the Senate.
Lab spokesman Steve Sandoval said an estimated 560 people attended Monday's hourlong ceremony in the auditorium being named after Domenici, where attendees needed to have a Q security clearance, with fewer than 50 watching telecasts at two other sites on the LANL campus.
In Los Alamos, Domenici has been known as a champion of the lab, keeping its budget strong, its buildings new and numerous, and its mission adaptable to changing circumstances. One after another, speakers Monday praised the senator for recognizing the role that science and technology can play in improving the future.
And while Los Alamos is most widely known for harnessing the destructive power of the atom, some talked about Domenici's role in pushing for its productive uses. "Through the years, there has been one voice in Congress who understood the need for nuclear energy for the generation of electricity," said Harold Agnew, a former lab director who came from California to join the tribute. "I don't know who is going to pick up that leadership in Congress."
For 27 years, there was no move to build new nuclear power plants, but now 18 applications for reactors in this country are awaiting federal review, Domenici said with obvious delight. And while Domenici stressed the need to stop relying on crude oil as an energy source, he also spoke out in favor of drilling for domestic supplies while we still depend on oil, saying it made no sense to send $700 billion a year to other countries to buy that resource. "We're going to use oil, so why not use our own? We're going to be using it for three more decades," he predicted.
On a personal level, Domenici, who has been diagnosed with a progressive brain disease, said he is feeling well.
"Whatever is happening to me is happening very slowly, and that's good," he said.