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When President Barack Obama sent his FY2015 budget to Congress, it turned out to be bad news for the Manuel Lujan Jr. Neutron Center, which is part of the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center.
Through the past two decades, the Lujan Center has been operated through a partnership between the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Office of Basic Energy Sciences.
Obama’s budget request cut $10 million in funding for the operational costs of the Lujan Center.
This is what the budget request said.
“The BES operations of the Lujan Neutron Scattering Center will cease and funding is requested for safe storage of facility components”. For well over a decade, the Lujan Center at LANSCE has been an international center of excellence and innovation for basic and applied research in neutron scattering and fundamental nuclear physics,” the budget statement said.
“The Lujan Center provides scientific users from almost every state in the nation unique capabilities for scientific research in material science, condensed matter science, biology, nuclear science and technology. The Lujan Center has a distinguished record of innovation and contribution to our nation’s neutron scattering capability, a significant record of accomplishment in executing research of great importance to US national security, as well as a long history of training new users in the United States. We will keep our users informed on this developing situation and the path forward.”
Dr. Tyrel M. McQueen, Chair of the LANSCE User Group Executive Committee, sent a letter to employees and those involved in the various user groups.
McQueen pointed out that the Basic Energy Sciences user program in neutron scattering will be utilized at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) and its High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR).
“At this time, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the NNSA, and the other research sponsors are assessing the implications of this disappointing decision to the other neutron scattering activities at the Lujan Center,” McQueen wrote.
“Numerous users have already expressed dismay and concern about the pending loss of access to unique instrumentation and the negative impact to their research programs. Some have observed that capacity is insufficient at other U.S. facilities to meet both the scientific and training needs of the community. Many have noted that the decision reduces the competitiveness of the U.S. neutron scattering community and the scientific programs that rely on the unique attributes of neutrons.”
The Nuclear Materials Monitor reported that lab officials fear the decision to terminate the Lujan Center, which came without warning to the lab, represents diminishing support for LANSCE overall.
The Obama Administration previously attempted to block funding for a refurbishment of the facility only to have Congress intervene several times and provide funding for the upgrade.
Jennifer Talhelm, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), told the trade publication that the senator would fight to fund the facility this year.
“Senator Udall is a strong supporter of the Lujan Neutron Scattering Center, which is important for the stockpile stewardship program and which does critical science research both for the lab and for the nation, including the production of important medical isotopes,” Talhelm said, adding: “He has previously fought successfully to prevent cuts to LANSCE, and he believes this program will remain important to the nation in the in the future.”
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M) said in a statement, “Reductions to general science research are troubling. “Previous budgets have also called for cuts to the Lujan Center, and I’ve worked with the New Mexico delegation to restore funding and keep it operational. I will continue to advocate for the areas that help ensure our labs remain a key component in U.S. competitiveness, job creation, and national security.”
According to the lab website, the 800-million-electron-volt (MeV) accelerator and its attendant facilities at Technical Area 53 have been a resource to a broad international community of scientific researchers since 1972. The Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF), as it was originally called, hosted about 1000 users per year to to perform medium energy physics experiments.