University of California President Richard C. Atkinson acknowledged Monday that U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has "reason to be unhappy" with his institution's management of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons facility but pledged to go forward with reforms.
Atkinson, who visited employees at the lab near Santa Fe, N.M., on Monday, along with George P. "Pete" Nanos, the facility's new interim director, said that like Abraham, he had been "stunned" to learn of the extent of the problems there. UC's management contract has been jeopardized by allegations of theft and corruption.
Matters worsened in November when two former police officers hired to investigate the allegations were fired by lab officials and later claimed that the dismissals were part of an attempt to cover up the alleged wrongdoing.
"It's extremely disturbing to me and I think it is to everyone in the lab and the university that we find ourselves in this situation," Atkinson said in an interview. "But I believe this is also an opportunity to put things right."
The university last week announced major changes in the leadership at Los Alamos, including the replacement of veteran director John Browne, amid mounting allegations of credit card abuse, equipment theft and mismanagement at the storied facility, the birthplace of nuclear weapons. UC is under contract to the Department of Energy to manage Los Alamos and two other national labs.
Atkinson and Nanos pledged to try to restore public confidence in the lab and said they would work to preserve the university's 60-year role in managing it.
Browne and his second-in-command, Joseph Salgado, left their positions Monday amid scrutiny from the Energy Department and several congressional committees.
Abraham welcomed the changes, but warned Atkinson that the university's long association with Los Alamos has been threatened by the allegations. He has ordered an evaluation of the university's management of the facility.