CAROL A. CLARK and ROGER SNODGRASS,
firstname.lastname@example.org, Monitor Staff Writer
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., blasted Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, for being out of touch with the history and value of the Los Alamos National Laboratory during a telephone conversation this morning.
"Why do we have to have this lab?" Stupak asked Jerry Paul, Principal Deputy Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration during a House investigative hearing Thursday.
"How are you going to fix it?" he asked again later. "What is going to change with the new manager?"
Domenici said comments that Los Alamos should be closed because of problems were made by someone who doesn't know about what Los Alamos does.
While the laboratory has had some problems, Domenici said, "the problems are on the way to getting taken care of.
"The laboratory is the United States of America's science security blanket. While this lab does many things in the interest of national security, it is also our security against science breakthroughs that might adversely affect our people."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Thursday that Los Alamos has filled a significant role in national security since its creation as a top-secret World War II project to develop the atomic bomb.
"Anyone who would question the lab's importance clearly does not have an understanding of all that this lab has done and continues to do for the country," Bingaman said.
Domenici was also unhappy with the answers about the lab provided by the NNSA deputy administrator.
In answer to the question of how to fix the lab, Paul referred to an unfinished study that has been cited by NNSA Ambassador Brooks to justify a possible $3 billion cut in the weapons laboratory budget over a number of years.
"What is so special at LANL?" Stupak continued. "Why do we need Los Alamos? What can't be transferred some place else?"
Paul said an outside group was examining that question concerning the entire complex and its critical missions.
"Where do they need to be done and what are the critical missions that are needed?," he asked.
The study, commissioned by Rep. David Hobson, R-Ill., chair of the subcommittee that holds the pursestrings for the energy department, was due at the end of April, but Paul said it is now expected at the end of May.
Sen. Pete Domenici objected recently to funding assumptions based on a study whose conclusions had not been adopted.
"I was very disturbed by the quality of the representation by the NNSA (DOE). The gentleman who appeared seemed to me to be poorly equipped and grossly uninformed about the laboratory," Domenici said.
"How he could do such a terrible job of describing the value of the lab is beyond my understanding, and I will complain directly about that to DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman and NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks."