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Udall renews push for diversified mission

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By Roger Snodgrass

New Mexico’s two national laboratories should continue to broaden their work on behalf of national priorities, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. said this morning.

Based on previous conversations with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Udall wrote a letter Monday asking him to support a future vision of the laboratories that expands their mission into additional areas of national security.

Two of the three nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, are in New Mexico.

Udall said he has spoken to Chu since before he was Energy Secretary and diversification has been an important topic.

“There is absolutely no doubt that we will be able to build a stronger sustainable lab if we diversify,” Udall said.

The letter renews Udall’s calls for “diversifying and growing” the missions of the National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory’ that have been funded in recent decades primarily for their role in maintaining and certifying the nuclear stockpile.

“Yet, while our laboratories have continued to support a broad national security objective beyond the core mission of the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), almost all activities of the NNSA are supported fundamentally by a shrinking budget of that core mission,” Udall wrote.

The senator traced his advocacy for a broader national security portfolio for the national laboratories to a letter he wrote in November 2006 to Jim Nussle, at the time the Office of Management and Budget director.

His letter to Chu harks back to a “Future Vision” statement that was developed last year by energy department and NNSA officials.

Out of that process, Udall said, a number of Strategic Partnership Agreements have been either signed or are currently under negotiation.

“The basic idea of strategic partnership is to have other agencies invest in the infrastructure at the laboratories,” Udall said, so that there is more of an on-going relationship between the agency and the laboratories. That means not just occasional work-orders, but a commitment to develop infrastructure and capabilities that can serve other national needs as well.

A recent partnership agreement with the Department of Homeland Security has led to a pilot project to test a liquid sensor technology at the Sunport in Albuquerque, Udall noted. Another partnership is underway with the Defense Research Projects Agency.

Udall is encouraging laboratory partnerships to fund additional work in counterterrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, intelligence, renewable energy, climate and computer modeling and simulation.