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Hunter to retire

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Paul Hommert will become the lab’s next director in July

By Sue M. Holmes

ALBUQUERQUE — The head of Sandia National Laboratories’ nuclear weapons programs, Paul Hommert, will become the lab’s next director in July.

Hommert, currently Sandia’s executive vice president and deputy laboratory director for nuclear weapons, will succeed Tom Hunter, who plans to retire July 9. He has been Sandia president and lab director since April 2005.

Sandia was formed after World War II to work on the nation’s then-fledgling nuclear weapons program, but it since has taken on other roles, such as energy and national security research.

The lab, which now has about 8,400 employees, will continue diversifying despite President Barack Obama’s call for a larger nuclear weapons budget next year, Hommert said.

The budget Obama sent to Congress in February requested $1.14 billion for weapons activities at Sandia, compared to the 2010 total of $953 million, and $187 million for nonproliferation work, up from the current $171 million.

“I don’t see there being this huge emphasis shift,” Hommert said at a Thursday news conference called to announce his appointment and Hunter’s retirement.

The nuclear weapons program “clearly remains at the core of our mission,” but Sandia has a role to play in developing solutions for national security issues, he said.

“As the nation comes to us with a set of challenges — and there’s always a little dynamic in that — we will meet those challenges consistent with the priorities of the national leadership,” Hommert said.

He also pointed out that although he has worked on nuclear weapons, he first came to Sandia “to work on energy problems in the Carter administration” in 1976.

Hommert was named head of Sandia’s nuclear weapons program in February 2009, making him responsible for overseeing engineering support and design for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

He was vice president of Sandia’s California Laboratory from August 2006 to June 2009, and led Sandia’s homeland security and defense strategies. He worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico from 2003 to 2006, leading the physics division. For three years he directed research at the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, which oversees that nation’s nuclear deterrent.

Hunter, who joined Sandia in 1967, said the lab has changed from a place with a single mission and a closed environment to a lab that works on a broad range of national security issues, has relationships with institutions across the country and discusses its activities more openly.

Once he retires, Hunter said, he expects to keep close ties to the national security community but has “no particular plans for the future.”