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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Alarm over shortage of nuclear experts

Anonymously contributed:

An interesting article at:

The gist of the article is the fact that the population supporting the weapons
complex is getting older and is not being replaced.

"To narrow the gap, the Obama administration is proposing to boost a series of
programs - including cash bonuses and tuition reimbursement - to persuade a new
generation of students to earn degrees in nuclear physics, engineering, and
other related disciplines and choose a career in weapons work, according to
budget documents. The nuclear security agency has also established guidelines
requiring contractors that run its weapons laboratories - currently on the order
of 30,000 - to recruit and train more workers."

I'd like to see that guideline, what are the penalties to the labs if they can't
recruit people? Will LLNS and LANS not receive bonus money because they can't
convince people to work here versus other areas that don't have the bureaucracy
the NNSA has created.

How about cash bonus for us still working here to re-up, like an incentive shown
to those in the military (and kudos to those folks!).

I love the part of the article that states that average age of the 3,000
employees at NNSA is 47 and a full quarter of them will reach retirement age by
2012. That leaves 75% of them to continue the mis-management of the complex.
And if they retire at 60, that means 13 more years of these folks boys and
girls. It will be a race, can the complex survive 13 years or will they need
fresh blood to make the collapse occur sooner?


Anonymous said...

Just exactly what are these newly recruited best & brightest to do – work on weapons that were designed 3 or 4 decades ago?

Or, I guess every 5 years or so, we can pretend like were going to design new weapons that will never be tested or manufactured. That should attract some "D" students.

Sooner, rather than later, the W76 warhead will have to be replaced with the SKUA9 primary or another tested design. It remains to be seen whether we'll have the talent to do it right.

Anonymous said...

The NNSA and their for-profit LLC lackies have done a terrific job running these once crown jewel nuclear weapon labs straight into the ground.

To make up for the drastic losses in scientific brain power, NNSA and the for-profit LLCs issue huge amounts of "rah-rah" PR literature to help make Congress and the news media believe everything is better than ever under the new lab management schemes. It is not.

Look at who now controls these research labs... Bechtel. LLNL and LANL are being managed by a construction company, for goodness sakes! Is it any wonder that no self respecting, young, bright scientists want to come and work here any longer?

As LANL's former Director Sig Hecker said to a Senate Committee back in 2007, these labs have now become drab, life-less "scientific prisons" were risk aversion and stifling policies are the order of the day.

Anonymous said...

“There is a paradox,’’ said Thomas P. D’Agostino, undersecretary of energy for nuclear security. “As the number of weapons come down, what becomes even more important is having the people who understand how they work.’’

D'Agostino needs to be informed that while he is making statements like this to the media, the Associate Director for Weapons (Brett Knapp), with the concurrence of the Lab Director (Mike Anastasio), has forced a large number (~ 50) of highly experienced and knowledgeable weapon engineers to leave the LANL nuclear weapon program. I was personally directed to leave the program with no explanation. It's not a personnel retirement or personnel aging, but a complete disregard for the existing (what is left of it) nuclear weapon capability by LANS Managers. It's too late to try to salvage the nuclear weapon capability that has been destroyed or lost by LANS.

Anonymous said...

Staffing loss? Don't worry, the NNSA has no qualms about replacing experienced lab staff with cheap, temporary, D-grade staff to fill in for the growing talent loss.

Experience is SOOOO over-rated.

Besides, the problems arising from NNSA horrible mis-management of the nuclear weapon labs won't be obvious until many years down the road.

Until then, just keep happily reading all the swell PR releases that NNSA loves to throw out each day.

Anonymous said...

I really wonder -- now that the NNSA has done so much to ruin these labs, what do the Obama guys think they could possibly do to draw people in? After all, you only get to destroy trust once. Everyone in the science world knows what was done to the labs. Temporary "incentives" to bring new staff to these labs are not going to work, because they are by definition temporary. At the end of it all, the NNSA is still there running the labs, and we all know what that means. We've watched it for 10 years now.

When all is said and done, the two labs are still run by Bechtel, a company that knows nothing of science, with the NNSA above them. You can't fix anything until you fix that.

Of course, there is an easy way to fix the labs: status quo ante.
- junk the for-profit contractor, and get a good university back into the game
- abolish the NNSA or, failing that, move the labs out from under it

Probably not going to happen, but I can dream, can't I?

Anonymous said...

All of the quarterly stockpile assessment reports indicate that while some minor delays and setbacks have occurred, overall the state of the US nuclear deterrent is just fine. That's what congress, the Pentagon, and the White House look at, and that's what the lab directors sign off on. Until that changes, nothing else will.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that the cream of the crop of US scientists would just love to come work some place where you are randomly forced to produce urine samples within a 2 hours time limit or else face the penalty of losing your job.

Yeah, that will have all the best scientists beating down the doors to get in!

Tom D'Agostino is crazy if he thinks he can now re-build what he has helped to destroy at the weapon labs. As others have stated, it's now become common knowledge within the science community that LLNL and LANL are places that you don't want to come work for if you have plans to further your career in science. Mentors are telling their students to stay away from these places!

Anonymous said...

Reading this blog one would think we have more experts than we need.

Anonymous said...

so is this a good time for us young scientists to join the lab?

Anonymous said...

so is this a good time for us young scientists to join the lab?

April 10, 2010 6:31 AM

In one word, no. I worked for LLNL and Los Alamos only to be recently forced out of my 30-year nuclear weapon designer career to work at the LANS nuclear waste dump to shuffle paper. The current LANS/LLNS managers have no respect or regard for scientists or engineers as they used to in the past. The Labs have relegated themselves to profit oriented, job shops. Take your education and skills elsewhere unless you like mopping up legacy nuclear waste.

Anonymous said...

"Mentors are telling their students to stay away from these places"

I was told that years ago, and I should have listened. Not all government positions are bad, some actually have a great culture. For some reason though, these DOE sites fail miserably in people management, safety, security, and culture. At least the vending machines give out decent snacks, so it is not ALL bad. You just have to leave your windowless, poorly ventalated, WWII-era office and wander off until you find one.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice to think that this alarm over a "brain drain" at the NNSA labs means no future layoffs.

However, remember that this is the highly dysfunctional NNSA we are talking about here. Therefore, this shortage means they'll be working extra hard on plans to layoff even more scientists at their labs in the upcoming years!

Anonymous said...

Therefore, this shortage means they'll be working extra hard on plans to layoff even more scientists at their labs in the upcoming years!

Huh? can you explain the logic, if there is any, behind this comment?


Anonymous said...

April 14, 2010 11:00 PM

Hmm. And just where are you working again? Safety? I can't climb a ladder without training so I don't think you got that one right. As for your office, I suspect you may be at the lower eschelon, but that is just a guess.

Anonymous said...

April 11, 2010 10:46 AM

Mopping up legacy nuclear waste would be a task relegated to a LANL employee. We don't have that problem here.

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