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Off and On: Layoffs at nuke lab stir fears of a brain drain

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By Ralph Damiani

There was a very interesting story by the Associated Press out of California this past week.

It dealt with fears of an irreplaceable loss of brain power as the result of layoffs at the nation’s top nuclear weapons design lab, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

It seems the lab has laid off hundreds of workers, raising concerns about a brain drain.

Because of budget cuts and higher costs, Lawrence Livermore laid off 440 employees May 22-23. Over the past two-plus years, attrition and layoffs have reduced the work force by about 1,800.

According to a list obtained by the Associated Press, about 60 of the recently laid-off workers were engineers, around 30 were physicists and about 15 were chemists. Some, but not all, were involved in nuclear weapons work or nonproliferation efforts, and all had put in at least 20 years at the lab.

Any of this sound familiar?

Some lawmakers and others said they fear the loss of important institutional knowledge about designing warheads and detecting whether other countries are going nuclear.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the layoffs at Lawrence Livermore and two other big U.S. weapons labs represent “a national security danger point.” These unemployed experts might take their skills overseas, Feinstein said.


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