Richardson calls on Congress to fund LANL/Sandia

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By Carol A. Clark

Gov. Bill Richardson got serious in a letter to members of the Congressional Appropriation Committees Tuesday with regard to the looming funding crisis facing New Mexicos two national labs. FY 2007 ends Sunday and many jobs may depend on the budgets outcome.

As governor of New Mexico, I am writing to you to express my deep concern over the proposed appropriation for Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), which would signify cuts to these most important national security resources, Richardson stated in his letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Byrd, D-Nev., House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey, D-WI, and six other Congressional Committee chairmen and ranking members.

I urge you, while working on the FY08 Energy and Water Appropriations bills, to take up the Senate funding levels that will allow the labs to continue their vital scientific work. In addition, as the end of the funding year nears, I respectfully request that you fund the Continuing Resolution at FY07 levels to allow (LANL and SNL) to continue their mission without interruption until Congress completes its work on the FY08 funding bill.

LANL spokesman Kevin Roark addressed Richardsons letter during an interview this morning.

We greatly appreciate the strong support from Gov. Richardson, Roark said. He has clearly been a champion of the national security capabilities at both laboratories for a long time. The letter very succinctly describes the capabilities of both labs and we greatly appreciate the kind words.

Richardson stated in his letter that LANL and SNL are a key part of America's national defense and vital to New Mexico's economy. He added that while both laboratories have had a traditional responsibility to assure the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear deterrent, they have evolved to add new areas of innovation from assessing border and transportation security to improving health, energy and infrastructure security, and from countering nuclear and biological threats to supporting the physical security of first responders and America's armed forces at home and abroad.

While the U.S. Congress continues to deliberate on the future needs for nuclear weaponry and nuclear power, I believe all parties recognize the threat posed by loose nuclear material in a post 9/11 world, and the ongoing need to be able to assess the national security threat presented by countries seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Richardson said in his letter. With over six decades of experience, (LANL) is consistently called upon to access and analyze nuclear tests, such as those recently conducted by North Korea.

The governor told committee members that LANL also plays a critical role in recovering sealed radio-active sources and keeping the materials used in the nuclear dirty bombs out of the hands of terrorists and has retrieved more than 15,000 sources of radioactive material from medical and educational facilities.

The governor added that the labs' security research is also developing techniques to defeat roadside bombs and countermeasures to nuclear and biological terrorist threats.

The 12,488 LANL employees and the 8,600 SNL employees include some of the best and most highly awarded scientists in the world, Richardson stated. LANL scientists have produced over 16,000 peer reviewed technical articles in the last 10 years, the highest of any Department of Energy national lab.

Richardson mentioned that the labs are expanding the borders and limits of science and engineering. He said while America's leadership in math and science has slipped, SNL has two of the 10 fastest computers in the world Red Storm and Thunderbird adding that LANL is developing the worlds first computer capable of processing one million billion calculations per second.

Richardson told committee leaders that LANL scientists have helped complete the 100th genomic sequence and helped discover how hepatitis-C virus replicates itself in human liver cells. He explained that LANL operates the world HIV database that more than 10,000 researchers draw on in their efforts to find a cure for HIV.

But perhaps the area that holds the greatest promise for (the labs) is in the development of renewable energy. Richardson said. LANL is currently using cutting-edge nanotechnology to develop highly efficient solar cells. This breakthrough could revolutionize the solar energy field by making solar cells economically competitive with fossil fuels in producing electricity.

He added that LANL is an international leader in fuel cell research critical to developing a hydrogen economy and is working with companies to improve technologies for enhanced and clean use of fossil fuels and expanding energy conservation efforts reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Richardson called LANL and SNL international leaders in nanotechnology and said they are developing light, super-strong materials to make more efficient use of energy resources for automobiles and aircraft.

LANL and SNL each have unparalleled facilities, whose loss or reduction would impede scientific progress across our nation, Richardson said. The current appropriation would mean a dramatic cut for (both labs), and a significant step backwards in assessing global nuclear threats and reducing loose nuclear material. The current appropriation would also lose an opportunity to reassign the best scientists in the country onto the toughest scientific problem of our time - moving our nation to a renewable energy future.

As Congress continues its transition to a post-Cold War and post-9/11 strategy, Richardson urged committee leaders not to shortsightedly curtail innovation and scientific advance at America's leading national labs.

He called on them to maintain the labs' national security missions and to challenge its scientists to help build America's renewable energy future.

They've faced tough challenges before and have risen to meet them, Richardson said. I urge you to call on these scientists to take on this new mission.