Placed under federal
Faster than a nuclear chain reaction, word spread through Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that President Bush is planning to yank the center from the Department of Energy and place it under the auspices of a new Department of Homeland Security.
“We just heard about this. It’s hard to imagine how this could be done completely, because the nuclear weapons role would have to remain within the Energy Department,” said Phil Duffy, a chemist who researches global warming in the California lab’s Atmospheric Science Division.
Duffy said Friday that Livermore fits well in the Energy Department because teams like his can take advantage of its high-end computing facilities needed for nuclear research.
Bush’s secretly developed plan to create a Department of Homeland Security, which he announced Thursday, shuffles dozen of federal agencies. By Friday morning, turf battles were already shaping up in Congress.
But it was the fine print that sent reverberations through San Francisco’s East Bay on Friday. In the third paragraph of the fourth chapter of the White House’s proposal, came this: “The Department would incorporate and focus the intellectual energy and extensive capacity of several important scientific institutions, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.” A much smaller agricultural research laboratory was also mentioned.
Former Livermore director Michael May was dubious.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I find this difficult to believe.”
May, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, said he paid close attention to Bush’s commentary about the new office on Thursday, as well as Congressional reaction, and was quite confused.
“Livermore does quite a bit of homeland security and wants to do as muc h as it can, obviously, but the major projects there are Department of Energy projects,” he said.
Founded 50 years ago, Livermore started as a second nuclear weapons design laboratory — after Los Alamos National Laboratory — to find ways to design and stockpile nuclear weapons. Livermore’s research mission has since spread to include energy, biomedicine, and environmental science.
The lab, which operates on about $1.5 billion a year, is managed by University of California, as are Los Alamos and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which does non-weapons, unclassified research.
The Los Alamos and Berkeley labs aren’t mentioned in the Bush plan, and an Energy Department spokeswoman said she doesn’t believe the other labs will be involved in the reorganization.
A spokesman at Los Alamos, which works closely with Livermore on maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile, said he couldn’t comment.
UC spokesman Michael Reese said they were not consulted by the White House about the shift, but that they have a contract to run the lab and will wait for details about the proposed changes.
Retiring lab director C. Bruce Tarter, who learned about Bush’s plans for Livermore from The Associated Press, said Friday that he hadn’t received any “official details” yet.
“Over the past few years, our Lab and our sister NNSA laboratories have played important roles in the war on terrorism and we look forward to enhancing our future contributions to this cause,” he said.
Elsewhere in the lab, researchers were also grappling with the news.
Livermore chemist Philip F. Pagoria, who works in Livermore’s Energetic Materials Section, said he only heard about the proposed shift on Friday morning and hadn’t had time to think about it.
“There’s always ways we can contribute to homeland security,” he said, “but I’m going to have to take some time to consider what this might mean.”