Sep 23, 2008
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
Los Alamos has had major successes of late, but is feeling squeezed by dwindling funding and aging infrastructure, the lab's director told members of the University of California board of regents on Wednesday.
With aging buildings and little money to replace them, the lab is trying a new approach to building a new science complex — having a private developer finance and construct the building, which the lab will then lease.
The lab last week chose Pacific Equity Partners to build the new Los Alamos Science Complex.
The problem, Michael Anastasio said at the California meeting, which was broadcast over the Internet, is a federal governmentwide squeeze on money for science.
Located in the Jemez Mountains west of Santa Fe, Los Alamos is one of the nation's three nuclear weapons research centers. Anastasio took over as the laboratory's director two years ago when a consortium led by engineering giant Bechtel took over lab management from the University of California, which had managed Los Alamos since its founding during World War II.
The University of California is one of Bechtel's partners in the new management group set up two years ago to run the lab.
Anastasio called the current period “an important time of transition for the laboratory.”
The additional cost associated with the transition to private management, combined with a budget losing ground to inflation, has meant the equivalent of a 25 percent reduction in available money to run Los Alamos, Anastasio told the UC regents.
Lab employment has dropped by 2,200, he said.
Despite the tough times, Anastasio praised the science being done at Los Alamos, both in the nuclear weapons program and elsewhere.
The lab's new Roadrunner supercomputer is the world's fastest — the first computer in the world to break the petaflop barrier, a thousand trillion calculations per second.
The U.S. nuclear weapons program financed Roadrunner, but Anastasio noted that one of its first scientific calculations will be a simulation of the human brain.
According to Anastasio, Los Alamos has shown marked improvements in two areas that have caused problems in the past: safety and security.
Security incidents are down 75 percent from a year ago, and safety incidents are down 35 percent, he said.
Norman Pattiz, head of the regents' Lab Oversight Committee, said lab management at Los Alamos and the other two laboratories the university helps manage for the federal government have received “extremely positive feedback” from the federal officials responsible for the labs.