Friday, December 30, 2005

Discussing (or Not) Our Nuclear Future

Letters

Discussing (or Not) Our Nuclear Future

A potentially enormous change in the way the US manages its nuclear weapons program is playing out with very little discussion.

Several books have been published this year on Robert Oppenheimer and Los Alamos. They remind us that even when Manhattan Project scientists were working flat out to develop and build the bombs, most of the scientists kept discussing the larger issues of national policy and how the bombs were to be used. Contrast that with today.

At present the major medium of discussion of the future of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and by implication the nation's nuclear weapons program seems to be the LANL blog (http://lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com/). Discussion there of the impending change in laboratory management ranges from apprehension about benefits to character assassination of those figuring in recent Los Alamos controversies. Few comments have addressed the larger issues, and responses to them have ranged from nonexistent to derisive.

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Full Article


Comments:
Cheryl Rofer has many useful points in her letter. However, she dismisses some serious comments that have been posted here on The Blog when she says:

"Few comments have addressed the larger issues, and responses to them have ranged from nonexistent to derisive."

And yet here she is, on The Blog. Amazing, isn't it?

Let's hear how the LANL staff (or the "few malcontents" who read it) feel, once again, about focusing Los Alamos National Laboratory upon the pinpoint of pit production, rather than being a full-dimensional research Laboratory. (I guess she might be able to guess how I would come down on this debate, so let's open it up to the wide panoply of viewpoints--other than the dismal tiny minority of whiners, as she might say.)

How about you expounding a bit more upon this topic, Cheryl? Right here on The Blog.
-Are you there?
 
Careful, Brad. Cheryl (and I'm speaking from past experience here) doesn't seem to deal well with points of view that counter her own.

Maybe it's time for you to fire up your electronic pen and write a counterpoint opinion piece for Physics Today.

-Doug
 
This article seems quite naive and relates unrelated events. Discussions during the war about the fate of the bomb (and the super) were highly classified. The discussions on the blog are unclassified and so don't cover the same topics. She also makes the assertion that transitions to non-nuclear work done at the lab were not well planned. What is her evidence for that? Perhaps a case can be made (no clear federal policy, e.g.), but she doesn't make that case.

Los Alamos was the beginning of big science funded by the federal government, by showing that it makes a difference. It is important to have the discussion as to who manages nuclear weapons. It clearly now is micromanaged from Washington and not by LANL or other organizations. This transition took place a long time ago.

Many of these issues can and should be discussed on this or a related blogs. Many are unrelated to the change in contractor at Los Alamos and end up being a political discussion. There is a memo that has been sent to Lab management by many LANL scientists describing the position of those folks on the role of scientific research at LANL as we make the transition to a new contractor. This might prove to be a useful basis for many discussions.
 
David,

Can you get me a copy of that memo? I'll be happy to post it.

-Doug
 
I have observed and been struck by the same thing: with a few exceptions, the overall lack of discussion on purpose and ethics of national nuclear policy. Its understandable for staff to be concerned about and debate pensions plans and management styles but there are much bigger issues as stake. One can only imagine what Oppenheimer, Bethe, Lawrence, Feynman etc would think or say but it seems safe to predict they would be talking about nuclear policy and probably opposing it. This blog has been valuable but I have taken note that some of my submissions that had to to with precisely this bigger picture were not posted. For example there was an important letter from various Congresspersons just a couple weeks ago discussing and criticizing the new DOD document which lowers the restraints on future US nuclear attack on another country. This has been not commented on in the major press of course. Why not at 'the real story'?

-Rick Sterling
 
At this point the people of LANL and LLNL should only be concerned with their own welfare, not the job at hand. Why? For one, the UC made it very clear that their retirement fund was far more important then “you”. They needed to find a means of thinning out the work force without having a RIF that could be contested. With two years of brilliant planning and $200M the lawyers found a way to save management while they burned the blue-collar workers. How? By offering them three options of which only one is viable avenue.

So my question to all of you is, why should any employee from either lab remain loyal to the cause or mission? I can’t see any reason. As I have said many time before on this blog and I will say it again. It is time to have a mass exodus where we leave UC, DOE and NNSA with what they deserve.

NOTHING !!
 
My 3 cents:
1) The Szilard petition was classified, and remained so until 1958. There has been a lot of discussion of the lab's future, and the future of the NW complex, going on in places other than this blog. For instance, I've seen articles about RRW in newspapers across the country, as well as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Congressional Research Service. Links to some of these articles have been posted to the blog, as was the report referenced in Ms. Rofer's article.
2) How much will a change of contractor alter nuclear weapons policy? UC has "managed" LANL and LLNL for their entire existence, but they had no say about what weapons were designed, produced, etc. That is up to the DOE, DOD, and the politicians in DC. Not the people in Berkeley, that's for sure! So to say that changing contractors is a change in nuclear weapons policy is quite a stretch.
3) b-ohica says: "...why should any employee from either lab remain loyal to the cause or mission? I can’t see any reason." Are you f***ing kidding???? Many of the lab's programs are vitally important to the security of the nation. Shall we give up on safeguarding fissile material just because some politician is an idiot? Of course not.

Have a Happy New Year!

Kevin
 
Shall we give up on safeguarding fissile material just because some politician is an idiot? Of course not.

Of course not, but you don't need 32,000 people between the two labs to do it. That's what safeguards and security is for. That's what we have the CIA, NSA and the FBI for. The BS that the two labs have been pursuing can be resolved with a maintenance program , period. The boondoggle i.e NIF that has been taking place over the last decade is just that. In my opinion it's time to bring these TOYS to an end.

No I am not friggin kidding, about anything I say.

Personally I think the nation would be far better off if they contracted most of the work outside the walls of both labs. At my facility I have seen far to much procrastination in the work force, to the point where the employees have begun to mimic civil service employee. I've been there and done that and I have no intention of reliving it.

Maybe this shake up may be the best thing that has happened in a long time.
 
"Los Alamos was the beginning of big science funded by the federal government, by showing that it makes a difference. It is important to have the discussion as to who manages nuclear weapons. It clearly now is micromanaged from Washington and not by LANL or other organizations. This transition took place a long time ago."

When I came to LANL from a dot-com background, it seemed attractive to "be a scientist." Now, with all this "compliance" talk, I'm starting to think our purpose here is to give the federal bureaucracy toys to use that they don't understand. More and more, I feel like one of the sharashka workers of the Soviet system. I'm not sure this complex of large federally-controlled laboratories carries any compelling benefit for scientists, while the benefit to federal bureaucrats is obvious. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone starting their career.
 
"I have observed and been struck by the same thing: with a few exceptions, the overall lack of discussion on purpose and ethics of national nuclear policy."

Rick,

You refer to a discussion best had by the citizens, leaders and policy makers of the US. At LANL (or LLNL) our job is simply to provide the president with one of many possible options.

Those who would engage in hand-wringing philosophical debates regarding the morality of their job left here decades ago. Either you accept your role, or you get frustrated and leave. Over the course of years, natural selection has prevailed.
 
Either you accept your role, or you get frustrated and leave. Over the course of years, natural selection has prevailed.

As I said before, the labs are doing nothing new. It's old experiments over and over again for the sole purpose of staying employed. Well as of Dec 21st that party is over. Now its time to clean house and they'll let you decide, that is until funding goes away. Then it's pink slip time. This is known as corporate "natural selection".

As far as your natural selection is concerned, I still say it is time for anyone with good work ethics to walk and I do mean walk and never look back.

All that you should be focusing on is your future outside and away from LANL and LLNL. As far as DOE, UC, and NNSA is concerned your motto should "we shall not forget".

I hope your natural selection leaves you with the people "you feel" are right for the job and may the ones with a brain move on. I have seen decades of people being advanced to a higher position and better pay not because they "worked hard and got the job done " but because they sniffed butt or were so called politically personable. The ranking system have proven to me that they do not care about anything else. After decades of BS I am one of those who says, "enough is enough" and my feeling are that anyone who can get out should get out before the new contract takes affect.

It is my hopes that between the two labs which have a current population of 32,000 people we see at least 15,000 people go out the door between June of 2006 and Sept of 2007.

If we had a counter on this site and people whould vote we could see the number as they were happening.
 
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