By John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
A top federal nuclear official this week endorsed continued operation of a Los Alamos National Laboratory research complex, splitting with Obama administration budget officials who had said the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center was no longer needed.
Tom D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told members of a Senate subcommittee that the Neutron Science Center is important to maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons.
The Office of Management and Budget, in a budget-cutting report released last month, said the center's "usefulness ... is ebbing," and recommended terminating plans to refurbish the machine's aging components.
The proposed $19 million funding reduction was one of 121 cuts nationwide singled out by the Obama administration as evidence of its commitment to reduced federal spending.
Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have pledged to fight the cut, calling LANSCE vital for Los Alamos and the nation's nuclear weapons program.
The machine makes X-ray-like images of nuclear weapon parts and does other related research. Without the money for refurbishment, the three-decades-old machine's life is limited, according to a Los Alamos report.
D'Agostino, testifying Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, disagreed with the budget report's assessment of LANSCE's future usefulness.
He said decisions about LANSCE's long-term future will have to await completion of a Pentagon report on the future of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.