Sandia LabNews

Sen. Harry Reid: Labs have critical role

National labs have large role to play in homeland defense, says Sen. Harry Reid

Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories have key roles to play in the area of homeland defense and the fight against terrorism.

That was one of the messages Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate’s assistant majority leader, told reporters during a news conference Feb. 1 at Sandia. His remarks came following a morning tour of the Labs and briefings on stockpile stewardship, microtechnologies, explosive detection technologies, and antiterrorism activities.

Joining him on the visit were New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, and John Gordon, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The three senators and Gordon had a similar tour of Los Alamos National Laboratory the day before.

In informal comments Reid spoke glowingly about the labs’ capabilities and then answered questions, including one from a reporter asking if Sandia and Los Alamos can contribute to homeland defense.

"The answer is ‘yes’ underscored a hundred times," said Reid, also chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

Both Reid and Domenici have served in that role, they pointed out. Domenici also said that there is no other committee that funds more activities in the state of New Mexico.

Reid added, "We had a threat yesterday that was made public, that al-Qaida has targeted in very specific ways nuclear reactors around the country. I was concerned yesterday because I hadn’t been here . . . I have to say that we are certainly way ahead of where I thought we were."

Also during the news conference, he praised workers at both laboratories.

"Since Sept. 11 we’ve focused on people who wear uniforms, as well we should," he said. "Whether they are first responders, or firefighters, or police officers, or those people who are serving their country in such gallant fashion in Afganistan. But the people in these labs who don’t wear uniforms are every bit as patriotic as the people who do. They’ve contributed so much to the peace and safety that we now feel in this age. . . . And it’s a place where we are generally safe."

Reid noted that while he was awed by the technology he saw on his tours of the two national laboratories, what really impressed him were the people who work there.

"During my stay at Sandia, I have learned the many, many things that are going on here," he said. "Things that are being done here are so important to the state of Nevada, the state of New Mexico, our country, and the world.

"And we refer to Los Alamos, we refer to Sandia, the Nevada Test Site, and other facilities like that really in kind of a non-personal basis — these are facilities. But each of these facilities is made up of people. And today and yesterday what has impressed me more than all the many projects that are hard for my non-scientific mind to comprehend is the enthusiasm of the people involved in these programs; people who are working here for a pittance of what they could make on the outside."

Reid said, if he had a wish, "it’s that every other senator, the other 97 senators [not here] could have been with me the last two days and could see what I saw and hear what I heard.

"It is truly amazing what probably a lot of people in this room take for granted. . . . And it really is too bad that the other 97 are not here. But the three of us are going to carry forth with the zeal and enthusiasm that we feel to make sure to educate the other 97."

Bingaman said Reid had planned before Sept. 11 to visit the Labs.

"He [Reid] wanted to come. He initiated the visit," Bingaman said.

Reid praised Bingaman and Domenici’s strong support for the laboratories.

Sandia President Paul Robinson, Gordon, and Domenici all called the morning’s tours and briefings at Sandia "exciting."

Domenici emphasized he has worked hard to show colleagues in the Senate how to use the labs –with their "amazing inventories" of technologies — as a homeland defense system.

As for how he expects the defense labs to fare in the 2003 budget, Domenici said they are "not going to go up astronomically" but he’s going to ensure Congress gives the labs "plenty of latitude, plenty of resources."

Said Domenici, "We want to use the labs more, not less."

For his part Gordon said he sees the future of the NNSA labs as "brighter and brighter." He praised the senators’ "strong support to our mission, our labs, and our people."