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Lab science pitched in energy hearing

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By Roger Snodgrass

A day after the Department of Energy released the administration’s budget request for the next fiscal year, the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee discussed funding issues with Secretary Samuel Bodman.Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the committee chair, pressed the secretary for an explanation for the elimination of the DOE’s weatherization program.Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., used his share of time, in part, to encourage the department’s science funding, particularly at Los Alamos National Laboratory.“Since the new management has been in place, I’ve encouraged them to build a new science program,” he said.He told Bodman that the laboratory needed to refurbish the linear accelerator at the Los Alamos Neutron Scattering Center (LANSCE).“This facility is badly in need of an upgrade to sustain the lab capability into the future,” he said. “The budget seems to say we want to do this, but then provides a miniscule amount of money.”The FY09 budget released Tuesday requests $5 million “for activities directly associated with the LANSCE-refurbishment, particularly as it relates to enabling a central facility for material science and providing a foundational basis for establishing a signature experimental facility for materials research.”In August 2007, the laboratory announced that it was planning to establish, a project known as MaRIE (Matter-Radiation Interactions in Extremes) as its “signature science facility.”Terry Wallace, the principal deputy director in charge of science at LANL, said at the time that talks had begun with lab sponsors with the intent of getting the project into the budget for the 2009 cycle.In response to Domenici’s question, Bodman referred him to one of the new programs under the department’s Office of Science, for which the administration has requested $100 million.Bodman said it was a program that would run on a competitive basis, but he believed there was a reasonable supply of funds for work on MaRIE.“I don’t think there is any question that we are serious about it,” Bodman said.By coincidence, Wallace was speaking at an all-employee meeting at the lab this morning on science strategy and progress.“The laboratory is always appreciative of the support of Sen. Domenici and the rest of the Congressional delegation’s support for science,” Wallace said, when asked for a comment about today’s hearing. “LANSCE is a key facility for the future of our scientific achievements here at the laboratory.”In a second round of questioning this morning, Domenici asked if the $164 million in the current budget request for environmental cleanup would be sufficient to avoid penalties from the state regulators.“We will miss a number of milestones and have some layoffs,” Bodman said.In that case, Domenici said, the secretary would have to explain the matter to the state’s environmental department.“They have a habitual cure to this by fining us,” he said, adding that it would be a shame during a time of tight budgets “for them to be sticking you this way.”