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Nanos To Step Down at LANL

Heather Clark
Associated Press
      Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Pete Nanos — whose departure has been widely speculated for months — will leave the northern New Mexico nuclear weapons lab later this month to join the federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
    The University of California, which manages the lab, announced Friday that Nanos will be replaced by an interim director, Robert Kuckuck, on May 16. Lab officials have denied rumors for months that Nanos was leaving.
    Kuckuck, who has been with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California for 35 years, will serve as interim director until UC's management contract runs out Sept. 30.
    He was not immediately available to comment.
    Nanos — who took over Los Alamos two years ago after the last director was forced out — led the lab through years of turmoil: a scandal in which employees fraudulently purchased personal items on lab credit cards, reports of missing classified disks later found never to have existed and a virtual shutdown of the lab last summer that lasted for months.
    When Nanos was appointed interim lab director in January 2003, he vowed to "drain the swamp'' to rid the lab of financial problems and restore public confidence in UC. That July, he was named to the post permanently.
    Following the purchase scandal, Nanos replaced top managers, instituted new purchasing rules and took inventory of lab property — moves that garnered high marks from the state's congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Richardson.
    However, his management style upset some scientists, leading them to post comments to a Web blog called "LANL: The Real Story.'' The blog's operator, Doug Roberts, has said he believes the blog's anti-Nanos sentiments are reflected in the hallways of the lab.
    "While there have been many challenges, I believe there have been many more successes, not so much because of what I may have done, but because of the men and women who care so much about this great institution,'' Nanos said in a news release from the university.
    Lab critic Peter Stockton, senior investigator for the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C., said that from a standpoint of safety, Los Alamos under Nanos "was a mess.''
    "He didn't listen to his own people even though he claimed he had an open door,'' Stockton said Friday.
    Still, throughout the turmoil, the lab continued to capture prestigious science awards in basic and applied research.
    "Because of his strong leadership, the nation can be confident that Los Alamos is a stronger, safer and better-managed laboratory today,'' UC President Robert Dynes said in the release.
    Nanos' departure will occur the same week that a bidding war for the lab's management contract is set to begin. Lockheed Martin Corp., which runs Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, and defense contractor Northrop Grumman are among the potential bidders.
    UC has not decided whether to bid for the contract, but officials have been preparing as if the university will compete. As part of those preparations, UC has been reviewing a potential senior management team, and had said it was looking at a full range of candidates — including the current management.
    UC said it will make its decision on a bid after the final request for proposals is released, expected this month.
    Nanos, a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, received a doctorate in physics from Princeton University in 1974. He joined the lab in August 2002 as a principal deputy associate director for the lab's Threat Reduction Directorate.
    Kuckuck, a nuclear physicist who holds a Ph.D. in applied science from UC, was deputy director of Lawrence Livermore from 1994 to 2001, and has held other management positions at the California lab. He also has worked for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.
    Dynes said his "expertise in nuclear weapons and his fundamental understanding of how strong management and science must coexist in a national laboratory will be invaluable to the ongoing and important work of the lab.''