Sandia Lab News
December 5, 1997


Stockpile stewardship support is bipartisan now, Domenici says, but budget battles will continue

Larry Perrine

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US Senator Pete Domenici is pleased that support for DOE's stockpile management/ stewardship program appears to be growing and becoming increasingly bipartisan, but he also believes it will be a continuing battle in Congress and with future presidents to maintain the necessary financial support.

That was part of his colloquium message to Sandians Nov. 21 when he delivered his first major talk to a Labs-wide audience in more than two years. The Republican senator from New Mexico spoke to a full house in the main auditorium of the new Center for National Security and Arms Control (CNSAC), and his talk was telecast live to more Sandians in the Technology Transfer Center, to internal network monitors, and to Sandia/California.

Domenici a central figure in debate

Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore national labs are involved in many stockpile management and stewardship programs designed to ensure the continuing safety and reliability of nuclear weapons in the face of a US moratorium on full-scale nuclear weapons tests. President Clinton announced his support of the moratorium in 1993 and reaffirmed it in 1995. Full-scale tests would actually be banned under the proposed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that will be deliberated in Congress soon. Senator Domenici will be a central figure in those deliberations.

As chairman of the Budget Committee and member of the Appropriations Committee, Domenici has led the battle to increase DOE's Defense Programs budget to $4.5 billion to fund stockpile management/stewardship programs. When underground weapons testing ceased, the President announced his intent to stabilize Defense Programs activities at $4 billion annually.

"In the course of the hearings this year," said Domenici, "I became increasingly convinced that the weapons labs are facing unprecedented challenges in accomplishing their missions without testing and that more resources were essential. That led me to work with the National Security Council and the Departments of Energy and Defense to revisit the budget planned in the next few years. The President has now announced that the budget will be set at $4.5 billion per year for the next 10 years."

Appropriations aren't entitlements

He cautioned, however, that such appropriations are not entitlements. "Even though the President starts with a $4.5 billion budget request, that doesn't mean it will sail through Congress. I am expecting gigantic debates in Congress as we try to protect that figure - I'll need help from Sandia in helping me defend that figure."

Praised in his introduction by Sandia President Paul Robinson as a senator who has a depth of understanding of security issues and broad energy issues and who is unique in his understanding and support of technology, Domenici returned the praise:

"Let me congratulate you for all that you do in making sure that our stockpile stewardship initiative works. Together with Livermore and Los Alamos, you bear the burden for preserving the integrity of our stockpile. All of you at Sandia are responding superbly to that challenge, and it is a difficult one. For as long as our nation relies on the nuclear stockpile as the ultimate guardian of our freedom, as I believe it will for many decades to come, your challenge will continue and increase in complexity."

Domenici acknowledged Sandia's work on the B61-11 earth-penetrating weapon that replaced the huge B53 weapon that had been in the stockpile for years, especially since the B61-11 was developed and put into the stockpile without full-scale nuclear tests.

"Whether or not one agrees with the nuclear-testing ban in America and the treaty proposed for the world [CTBT], for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you are operating under that ban," he said. "Your successful delivery of this new capability - allowing for the retirement of the B53 - is a great accomplishment. It was a good test of the new challenges you will be facing in a world without testing, with a far older stockpile in the future."

He said Labs' programs in advanced manufacturing, robotics, and intelligent machines will be major contributors in allowing Sandia to make similar contributions to the weapons program in the future.

Nonproliferation programs praise

Domenici went on to note the important role that Sandia plays in nonproliferation programs.

"While the tensions provoking global conflict are vastly reduced, the world is still a very complex and dangerous place. Some of the greatest dangers are associated with the threats of weapon proliferation. You are playing key roles in programs like the Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting Program that is placing former Soviet nuclear materials under reliable safeguards at more than 40 facilities.

"You are also using the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention to link your scientists with former Soviet scientists and US companies. This program is designed to prevent migration of these scientists to other nations that are seeking to build new weapons capabilities."

Domenici also commended Sandia's work with industry and communities, making special note of the eight R&D 100 awards the Labs won this year (Lab News, July 4). "Your success in these awards is indicative of the emphasis you are placing on industrial and business interactions and commercial impact. I urge that you not let up one bit in your efforts in that regard."

He said the $250 million cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Intel and its partners on extreme ultraviolet lithography (Lab News, Sept. 26) is a "superb example" of the kinds of benefits he envisioned when the National Competitiveness and Technology Transfer Act was started in 1989.

"That Intel CRADA should not only provide the technology for new generations of semiconductor chips to Intel and its partners, it should also enable Sandia to maintain capabilities to feed back into your weapons program. I have been told over and over again that it is indeed a two-way street. Like all CRADAs, there are plenty of benefits to our national missions along with benefits to the industrial partners."

Discussing the proposed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in more detail, Domenici said, "I have just begun to understand it and get briefed on it. Thanks to you and the other labs - in particular to you here at Sandia - I'm hoping I will be as informed and as factually correct on it as anybody in the Senate." (Domenici and his staff have visited Sandia several times in recent months to consult with national security specialists about issues relating to the CTBT.)

He said he plans to be a "major player" in the treaty deliberations and he looks forward to "your leadership helping me."

"One of the issues with that treaty . . . is the extent to which it is misinterpreted by various groups to suit their own agendas," he said. "I know that Sandia has been directly attacked for your work on the B61-11. That's one of the reasons I chose to speak of it publicly today, because that was done under a no-testing agenda."

(Editor's note: Some critics have maintained that the B61-11 is a new nuclear weapon, but the US has said all along that the B61-11 is not new, but a modification of older B61s to give the weapon an earth-penetrating capability to destroy buried targets.)

"I would assume that the treaty is no more binding or elaborate in that regard," Domenici said, "and we should be able to do that kind of thing if the treaty is ratified. There are some who already say that's not the case. Well, frankly, they will all know that that is the case, or it won't be ratified. Of that, I can almost assure you.

"I've studied it as carefully as I can during the short time we've had. [The President sent the treaty to Congress Sept. 22.] This is not a disarmament treaty. That's another misconception."

During a meeting with the media following his presentation, Domenici said he has not yet decided whether to vote to ratify the CTBT, but he is leaning in that direction. Although he never specifically linked his support for the treaty to achieving the $4.5 billion for the Defense Programs budget for stockpile stewardship, some people believe he won't support the treaty otherwise.

More support for science?

Speaking about the support for science in general in the future, Domenici said this is a challenge our country continues to look at. "From time to time we boldly look forward, and at other times we sheepishly step back."

He noted he recently joined in cosponsoring the National Research Investment Act along with Senators Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). It states the intent of the US to double the civilian research budget over the next 10 years. "Many of you wrote to me encouraging this action by our nation, and I'm glad to be an original sponsor."

He acknowledged that accomplishing the goal of the act with actual appropriations will be tough, but that the healthy economy and a balanced budget should help.

Domenici touched on several ideas he has proposed as a "nuclear vision" in recent speeches at Harvard University and at the American Nuclear Society annual meeting in Albuquerque Nov. 17.

He urged that the US and the world take another look at nuclear energy, especially because developing nations will need increasingly large amounts of electricity while the need to reduce harmful "greenhouse gases" grows.

He said we should reexamine the need to bury nuclear waste in Nevada at the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, in the meantime moving to interim storage of spent fuel and conducting a serious review of accelerator transmutation of waste. In response to a question from the audience later, he said he does not personally intend to stop the Yucca Mountain project in next year's appropriations process, but that he's getting more concerned that "we'll ever get there."

Craft strong partnerships for future

Looking to Sandia's future, Domenici said the world is changing rapidly and "I hope that the world can move away from security guarantees based on nuclear weapons. As that time approaches, a mix of programs at Sandia will evolve. To prepare for that future, I suggest that you should be increasing your efforts to work with other federal agencies, to broaden your involvement across the full spectrum of the Department of Energy, and to craft strong partnerships with US business and industry."

In response to a question about what can be done to maintain support for DOE's continuing management role in the nuclear weapons area, Domenici said, "The best thing we could do would be to get the Defense Department - the joint chiefs of staff and the other generals in charge of this aspect of defense - to openly and publicly acclaim DOE's management of this initiative through its laboratories."

He added that we moved slowly in a positive direction for DOE support in the early years of former DOE Secretary Hazel O'Leary. "Now we're getting a little stronger, and I think the military is gaining more and more confidence" in DOE.

Another questioner asked about Domenici's vision for continuing opportunities for the laboratories to spawn spin-off companies. He said he isn't sure "whether the Congress of the United States will take cognizance . . . of the successes of spinning out new start-up companies. We take that as a very, very important mission, and we're grateful to the leaders of the laboratories because they have joined in that.

"There have always been some societal impediments, and there still are some," he continued. "Some people don't think we should do business that way, but I am very excited about not only the way it's moving in terms of spin-off ideas, but the way the laboratories are considering . . . helping experts and scientific successes move on to be business people, and to take a little bit of the risk away."

Domenici's talk was videotaped and can be checked out from the Sandia/New Mexico Technical Library. To reserve a copy, call Annette Chavez (4915) at 844-2738.


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