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Bush Plan May Cut Nuke Jobs

By John Fleck
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    The Bush administration is readying a plan that could cut 6,000 to 9,000 jobs from the U.S. nuclear weapons complex over the next decade.
    The cuts, along with a reduction of one-third in the complex's square footage, would be spread across the eight U.S. sites that design, build and maintain U.S. nuclear weapons— including Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
    Specifics, including details of the proposed changes at individual sites, remain under wraps. But officials have begun talking publicly about the process in recent weeks.
    The plan would upgrade the labs and factories, creating a smaller and more modern complex. In the process, the government would replace buildings that in some cases are half a century old, said David Campbell, director of congressional, intergovernmental and public affairs for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
    None of the eight sites would be closed, Campbell said.
    The cost of maintaining the aging Cold War complex continues to rise, but the federal budget for the work is not keeping pace, Campbell said.
    "It's pretty clear that our budgets will not be going up," Campbell said.
    The plan assumes the federal agency will continue to maintain U.S. nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. "NNSA's mission is not going away," Campbell said. "We have a duty, a responsibility to maintain the stockpile, make it secure and reliable."
    Integral to the plan is the elimination of some 600 buildings at the eight nuclear weapon sites and a cut of 20 percent to 30 percent in the complex's 32,000-person work force.
    Campbell would not talk about specific plans at the individual sites, but did say that the job cuts would not necessarily be shared evenly among them.
    "Not every site will go down 20 to 30 percent," Campbell said. "Those are things that need to be worked out."
    More than 13,000 people are directly employed at Los Alamos and Sandia labs in the nuclear weapons program. A cut of 20 percent would mean the loss of more than 2,600 jobs in New Mexico.
    The planning effort, dubbed "Complex Transformation," is the latest episode in a saga that dates to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
    At the time, the United States maintained an arsenal of more than 20,000 nuclear warheads and bombs designed to counter the Soviet threat. Today, that has dropped to about 5,500, with further reductions planned.
    A year ago, the National Nuclear Security Administration unveiled a proposal it called "Complex 2030"— a proposal for creating a new nuclear weapons research and manufacturing complex over the next two-plus decades.
    This year's plan builds on the ideas developed for Complex 2030, but the focus has changed to look at what can be accomplished in the next decade, Campbell said. To that end, the "2030" has been dropped from the name. The project is now called simply "Complex Transformation."
    One Complex 2030 idea still being considered is the need to consolidate work with plutonium and other potentially dangerous nuclear materials at a small number of sites.
    Currently, such material is spread across seven separate sites around the country, driving up security costs.
    Earlier efforts to create a post-Cold War nuclear weapons complex have seen mixed success. In January 1991, in the waning days of the Cold War, then-Energy Secretary James Watkins issued a report outlining what he called "Complex-21"— a network of labs and factories that "would be smaller, less diverse, and less expensive to operate than the Complex of today."
    Part of what Watkins proposed, including the closure of some weapons plants, was completed. But the biggest piece of the puzzle— what to do with plutonium processing and manufacturing— has remained an unresolved problem as new leadership repeatedly abandons old ideas and launches new planning processes in their place, government documents show.
    Campbell said the current team is trying to come up with a plan that will survive a change in leadership in Washington, D.C. "We're trying to do this in a way that's sustainable for the future," he said, "that's sustainable for administrations beyond this one."
    An NNSA spokesman said details of the plan, including impacts on each of the eight sites, will be released in late November or December.
    Facing cuts
    Sites affected by proposed nuclear weapons complex cuts:
    Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico— design and manufacturing
    Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico— design and manufacturing
    Kansas City Plant, Missouri— manufacturing
    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California— design
    Nevada Test Site, Nevada— testing
    Y-12, Tennessee— manufacturing
    Pantex, Texas— assembly and disassembly
    Savannah River Site, South Carolina— nuclear processing and storage