Albuquerque Journal
Thursday, January 20, 2005

Anti-Nuke Groups May Bid on LANL

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer

The first group to announce its intention to bid for the Los Alamos National Laboratory contract will probably raise some eyebrows and elicit a few chuckles.

Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, a nonprofit laboratory watchdog organization that promotes nuclear disarmament, has joined forces with California-based Tri-Valley CARES, another U.S. Energy Department watchdog group, to prepare a bid to manage LANL.

Also in the group's mix is the Coalition to Demilitarize the University of California, an organization consisting of a few university student leaders and some faculty members supporting the group's vision for managing the birthplace of the atomic bomb primarily as a center for non-nuclear research.

"The idea of converting the weapons lab to a center for constructive civilian research makes great sense, and it should appeal to many of those who now work at the Los Alamos bomb factory," said UC Berkeley physicist and professor emeritus Charlie Schwartz in a statement announcing the bid.

The University of California has managed LANL since 1943. But after a series of financial and security management failures, outgoing Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced in 2003 that the contract to run the lab would be put out for competitive bidding. The university's contract to run LANL expires at the end of September, and DOE is expected to select a new manager sometime this summer.

Now, government contractor powerhouses such as Northrop Grumman and Washington Group BWXT, among others, have something in common with Nuclear Watch of New Mexico— they are all interested in managing the first top-secret nuclear weapons lab, responsible for ensuring the viability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Nuke Watch executive director Jay Coghlan said the group is serious about winning the bid to run the laboratory and its $2 billion budget.

"Clearly, (the bid) could be used to make a point, but we are serious," he said. "We are trying to get a serious message across."

The message?

"We think that (LANL's) overwhelming emphasis on nuclear weapons is outdated," especially with the country's obligations to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Coghlan said. "The public is not fully aware of the scope of the U.S. nuclear weapons program."

TRI-Valley CARES executive director Marylia Kelley said preparing a bid will help the groups influence the competition process.

"We seek to ensure that the new management contract will increase openness, improve health and safety provisions for workers and communities, strengthen whistle blower protections and provide incentive points for bringing more civilian science to LANL," she said.

The group plans to bring a "higher vision" to LANL's management.

"The NNSA explicitly said that it was looking for a, quote, higher vision for the management of the laboratory, and we do think that we have some elements of a higher vision," he said. "We think it is a mistaken priority for the nuclear weapons budget to double over the last decade and for renewables to diminish."

Coghlan said that the nation's nuclear stockpile needs to be reduced and irreversibly dismantled and that the push to build new weapons designs "is the wrong example to set for the world."

Earlier this month, Nuke Watch had a one-on-one meeting with the National Nuclear Security Administration board— known as the Source Evaluation Board, the body that is responsible for reviewing proposals to run LANL— about its bid.

"They were very up front and answered every question that they could," said Scott Kovac, Nuke Watch's research director, who said the board gave the impression that the watchdog's bid was being taken seriously. "They didn't accuse us of wasting their time or anything."

Sitting recently at Nuke Watch's headquarters off Upper Canyon Road in Santa Fe, Kovac said that under the organization's management, LANL would resist the current administration's efforts to design new nuclear weapons and to build nuclear triggers, or pits.

"We wouldn't want to create any more waste until we've taken care of all the old waste first," he said, sharing a chuckle with Coghlan.

"Right," Coghlan said. "And it is going to take a long, long time."

Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal