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National Labs’ Science Is Strong But Needs Changes

by Andrea Widener
September 16, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 37

The state of science at the Department of Energy’s three national security laboratories is strong, but that could change if several barriers to research are not addressed, according to a new report from the National Research Council (NRC). The primary mission of Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Laboratories is ensuring the future of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile without engaging in nuclear testing. The report says the labs are in a good position to achieve this. But the report, which Congress requested, recommends several changes that could improve weapons science at the lab. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which directly oversees the labs, should better weigh the risks against the rewards of experiments that involve hazardous materials or safety concerns, it says. Also, the labs should spend more money on smaller experimental facilities, not just on multi-million-dollar research centers, it continues. In addition, the labs need to place more emphasis on and personnel in nuclear weapons modeling, primarily to make this field more predictive. A companion NRC report on lab management released last year criticized NNSA’s oversight of the three labs.


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