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Lab film delves into history of nukes

Sandia National Laboratories has been at the heart of America’s nuclear weapons development nearly from its inception. Drawing on that history, the lab has produced a new documentary to tell some of those stories.

Former and current Sandia National Laboratories employees gather at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in 2011. (Photo Courtesy Of Randy Montoya)

Former and current Sandia National Laboratories employees gather at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in 2011. (Photo Courtesy Of Randy Montoya)

“Always/Never: The Quest for Safety, Control and Reliability” was recently released on Sandia’s YouTube channel.

The name comes from the position U.S. policymakers took after World War II. They decided the nation would rely heavily on nuclear weapons as an essential strategic deterrent.

They wanted a stockpile of weapons that would always work if called upon and never detonate due to an accident, equipment failure, human mistake or malicious intent.

The three-part video series tells the nuclear weapons history from 1945 to 1991. It examines how geopolitical events during the Cold War drove the history of nuclear weapon design and engineering.

It says, for example, that the Eisenhower administration shared nuclear weapons with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, but the Kennedy administration wanted assurances that the weapons could be used only with presidential consent.

Sandia developed Permission Action Links (PALs) to prevent unauthorized people from obtaining access to nuclear weapons and to improve presidential control of the stockpile.

The film includes interviews with dozens of scientists, engineers and policymakers, and gives details about the role of national laboratories in nuclear safety and security.

Dan Curry, who produced the film for Sandia, said it was originally going to be limited to Sandia’s contributions.

“We realized the scope needed to be broadened,” he said. “They decided to put Sandia’s story alongside achievements by Los Alamos and Livermore (national laboratories) and place all their stories within a larger framework.”

Covering events from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War, the film’s all-star-slate of interview subjects includes some big names. There are interviews with former defense secretaries Robert McNamara and James Schesinger, former Sandia Vice President Bob Peurifoy and dozens of others who were involved in the nuclear enterprise.

Curry worked with retired and current Sandia employees, many of whom he had spoken with during production of his 2005 documentary, “U.S. Strategic Nuclear Policy.”

He added that the documentary addresses the myths and criticism inherent to the nuclear weapons business.

“The film can’t help but dispel myths because it presents new information,” he said. “In the absence of information, myths emerge and critics outside the nuclear weapons complex inevitably raise questions they can’t answer authoritatively.”

Curry said he is already working on a new documentary, this time tackling the subject of the history of and debate over nuclear deterrence.

To see “Always/Never,” go to the Sandia National Laboratories channel,