Clinton Keeps Nuclear Bomb Research at Livermore Lab : Science: President says the facility is needed to ensure the reliability and safety of an aging weapons stockpile. More than 3,000 jobs will be saved at the site.


President Clinton on Monday ordered the Energy Department to continue operations at all three of the nation’s major nuclear weapons labs, rejecting recommendations to phase out nuclear bomb research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California.

The decision was an outgrowth of Clinton’s announcement last month to support a comprehensive ban on all future nuclear testing, which prompted bomb experts to recommend against any major reduction in weapons research, Energy Department officials said.

The announcement will save more than 3,000 research jobs in the Bay Area community of Livermore, and appease senior Pentagon officials who have argued vehemently to preserve Livermore’s role in nuclear weapons.


Clinton’s decision was kept under close wraps until Monday, leaving even Livermore officials in the dark about what was coming. Livermore Executive Officer Ron Cochran said the lab had worked hard for 18 months to demonstrate that its expertise is still needed.

“We are very, very pleased,” Cochran said.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the nation’s nuclear laboratory complex was expected to be sharply curtailed. Clinton’s decision means that the system put in place after World War II will be largely kept intact.

Clinton said that preserving Livermore is essential to ensuring the reliability and safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, the size of which is classified but widely estimated at 6,000 bombs.

Weapons experts have warned that a permanent end to underground nuclear testing would create serious doubts about the reliability of bombs as they age. Maintaining a high level of confidence in the bombs will require a massive research program, with competing teams conducting peer review of each other’s work, they said.

As a result, the Energy Department is planning to spend $40 billion over the next decade on the effort, building several experimental high-energy machines and establishing new production lines at the labs to make spare parts for bombs.

“This is the price we pay to forswear nuclear testing,” said Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary. “I knew a year ago that it wouldn’t be cheap.”


The announcement ends speculation about Livermore’s future that arose after a high-level commission, chaired by former Motorola Chairman Robert Galvin, earlier this year recommended phasing out the lab’s role in direct nuclear weapons research over five years.

The plan would have transferred many of Livermore’s responsibilities to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the facility in New Mexico that has been Livermore’s archrival in weapons technology since the early 1950s.

O’Leary initially said she planned to “embrace and adopt” a majority of Galvin’s recommendations, but on Monday she said that the need for Livermore became clear as the Energy Department and the Pentagon began to examine the consequences of a permanent ban on future weapons testing.

Sandia National Laboratory, which designs the electronic arming mechanisms and other parts for bombs, was not directly affected by the Galvin recommendations. It will continue to operate its two sites in New Mexico and California.

Livermore has 8,014 employees, of whom about 3,020 work on defense and nuclear weapons programs, lab officials said.

About $250 million is spent annually on weapons research at the lab. O’Leary said that phasing out the lab’s weapons work and transferring the functions to Los Alamos would have saved only $50 million a year.


Energy officials said that keeping both Los Alamos and Livermore will allow the two labs to conduct peer review, which is particularly important because so little is understood about nuclear weapons as they age.

Clinton’s announcement is part of a major Administration review of all federal labs, including those at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense. The decision on the Energy Department labs was the first result of that review.