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Some good news

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By Ralph Damiani

The news out of Washington this weekend was good – the federal budget for Los Alamos National Laboratory was nearly restored to its original level.Yes, there were some cuts but not nearly as drastic as had been proposed. So thanks to the efforts of Sen. Pete Domenici – and others – the cuts that had been aimed LANL were reduced.This is good news – for now.We find ourselves in agreement with Rep. Tom Udall when he stated that “we must not lose sight of the fact that in the near future we face a major reduction in our nuclear footprint and this year’s budget is only a temporary fix. We must continue to plan for the lab’s future and that means growth in new areas.”He is correct.This budget – at best – is only a reprieve. It is going to get harder and harder to fund the nuclear weapons work at the lab. It is critical to the managers there to go full speed ahead on diversification.Sen. Domenici, one of the negotiators, called this year’s appropriations process the most difficult he has experienced,To make matters worse, this will be Sen. Domenici’s last year. And we will also have a total upheaval in our congressional delegation with four of the five seats changing hands – with three brand new congressmen taking office in 2009. Add that to the presidential campaign going on.The funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility was cut, but it was funded.Also, cybersecurity and nuclear safeguards and security upgrades saw some money restored and LANL’s Roadrunner supercomputer, eliminated by the House, will be fully funded under the compromise bill.Some of the best news is that restoring the House cuts means the lab should be able to carry out its security missions and maintain its workforce.This bill will not reverse current plans to lay off 500-750 workers at Los Alamos, but it should help to avoid additional and future layoffs, Domenici said. We hope he is right.We again, find ourselves agreeing with Udall, who said: “LANL is a national treasure with first-class employees, world-renowned for enhancing our nation’s defenses in the most critical of times. In addition to the current core mission of the lab, our scientists have the talent to tackle research and work in other areas of national concern, including nonproliferation, counterterrorism, intelligence analysis, homeland security and energy security. They cannot tackle these challenges, however, unless the collective will exists to guide them towards a more diverse, sustainable direction.”The lab, and its mission, needs to be protected and change.