Stuff I Wrote Elsewhere, Plutonium Edition

Lab May Be Nuke Center

Federal officials will unveil a proposal today to make Los Alamos National Laboratory the nation’s center for nuclear weapons plutonium research, consolidating work now done at other sites around the country.
The proposal, to be unveiled at a news conference in Oak Ridge, Tenn., lays out a road map for the future of the nation’s nuclear weapons research and manufacturing complex.
“We believe that Los Alamos will, in fact, be the nation’s center of excellence for plutonium,” Robert Smolen, head of the nuclear weapons program at the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in an interview.
But the proposed designation comes as lab and federal officials scramble to provide the necessary lab space to do the work.
Los Alamos’s 56-year-old plutonium laboratory, which government nuclear safety experts have called a “significant risk” to workers and the public, will have to last a few years longer, federal and lab officials have concluded.
Construction of a replacement has been delayed, so a plan completed by the lab in August calls for continued nuclear operations in parts of the old lab for as long as a decade.


  1. To present another side to this story, you really should have quote yourself: “This plan is great for the local area economy, too.” said John Fleck, Journal reporter by day, crime fighter by night. “I was worried about the nuclear stories drying up in the coming years, but this should help keep me living in my accustomed luxury as the local nuke beat guy.”

    Sure, you can be the energy guy by looking at oil and gas prices, but, admit it: there’s way more energy involved atomic fission.

  2. John,
    If LANL becomes mostly a plutonium science center, what are your predictions on changes in the tourism income to Northern New Mexico, changes in the lab budget, changes in ability to recruit competent staff, number of staff in such a center, and political viability of a ‘plutonium science center’?


  3. Eric –

    I think it’s a great question, but I’m not sure the premise is quite right. I don’t buy your “mostly” here. The operational funding trends look to me as though what’s being described here will be done within the envelope of the existing resources devoted to actinide research. The real answer to your question with respect to the lab is how effective Los Alamos will be in pursuing other non-weapons work. As for tourism, my hunch is that the effect will be minimal. But I’ve no expertise in that area, and wouldn’t claim it to be a terribly well informed or thought out opinion.

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