Attendees hear the latest developments at LANL during the Community Conversations Breakfast Wednesday at Buffalo Thunder Resort. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
By Bonnie J. Gordon
Los Alamos Daily Post
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason spoke to educators, business people and community leaders at a LANL Community Conversation Breakfast Wednesday at Buffalo Thunder Resort. Staffing and infrastructure topped the agenda.
LANL Director Thom Mason. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
Sustained growth is predicted for LANL, with the lab’s budget reaching $3 billion by the end of 2020 and increases proposed for FY2021 seem likely to be approved, Mason said. Congressional hearings are taking place now.
Significant expenses include LANL’s infrastructure needs and plans to produce 30 plutonium nuclear-warhead cores (pits) per year LANL by 2026.
“We just had our 75th anniversary and that’s great, but the flip side of that is some facilities have earned their retirement,” Mason said.
He added that “Shovels are in the ground” on a number of projects. New cell towers are being installed to improve Lab communication, a new office building is underway, one new parking facility is going up and another is in the pipeline and a weather enclosure at the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility is in progress.
DARHT consists of two large x-ray machines that produce freeze-frame radiographs (high-powered x-ray images) of materials that implode at speeds greater than 10,000 miles an hour. Such radiographs help scientists ensure that weapons in the stockpile are safe and effective and that—if ever necessary—they will perform as designed, Mason explained.
“All areas have infrastructure needs,” he said.
Higher budgets and new projects have increased hiring needs at LANL with 1,250 new employees added last year and a similar amount predicted for this year. About half of the new hires replace retirees, but the rest are new positions, Mason said.
Keeping the hiring pipeline flowing smoothly has been a challenge, especially since LANL is committed to hiring as many New Mexicans as possible. Sixty-five percent of new hires are from New Mexico and 31 percent of hires have a degree from a New Mexico college, he said.
Partnerships with local colleges are helping to fill the need for skilled workers, Mason said. A partnership with Northern New Mexico College is training radiation control technicians (RTC).
“Shortages in this field were impacting the Lab,” Mason said. “Twenty-five percent of work orders were delayed by a lack of RCTs. Now the delays are down to one percent.”
Other partnerships include a mechanical engineering degree program at UNM-Los Alamos and a newly finalized agreement with Santa Fe Community College to create a machinist program.
The number of new hires has strained the resources of local communities and LANL is working with local government and housing developers around the region to increase housing stock within a 50-mile radius of LANL, Mason said, adding that the Lab is “open to creative ideas” to solve the problem.
Because housing needs cannot be met without including the Albuquerque area, the LAB also is exploring an express bus service to make public transit more attractive to long-distance commuters.
Mason introduced Michael Weis, the new manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Los Alamos Field Office. He replaces Doug Hintz who left the post last month.
At the Los Alamos Field Office, Weis heads a federal team that oversees management, security, quality assurance, environment, health and safety of the national and nonproliferation security missions at LANL.
“The Field Office enables the laboratory’s mission,” Weis explained. “It oversees the Lab contract, as well as safety, including environmental safety and costs. We need to be respectful of the taxpayers and stretch those dollars to increase the mission.”
The NNSA also helps the Lab “navigate the bureaucracy,” he said.
New NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Michael Weis addresses the audience. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com