Nuclear labs in New Mexico prepare for shutdown

October 9, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories are preparing to shut down by Oct. 21 and furlough of most of their 18,000 workers if Congress does not reach a deal to end the federal government’s partial shutdown, the Albuquerque Journal reported Wednesday.

The preparations result from a directive of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Journal reported ( ). The administration is part of the U.S. Department of Energy, and it oversees work at both national labs in New Mexico.

The NNSA and officials at Sandia confirmed preparations were being made for possible furloughs, but they [auth] declined to confirm a specific date had been set for shuttering nonessential work.

But Los Alamos Director Charles McMillan sent lab employees a memo Wednesday saying that without a resolution to the budget impasse, Los Alamos will complete “the transition to closure” as of the end of business Oct. 18.

“We are currently preparing a list of the safety and security operations that will continue and personnel who would work through the closure to staff them,” the memo said. “All other employees will be placed on unpaid furlough starting Monday, Oct. 21, until the Laboratory can safely restart.”

He scheduled an all-employee meeting for Thursday.

Sandia spokeswoman Heather Clark said Sandia President and Labs Director Paul Hommert spoke with employees Tuesday about “the possibility of a safe, secure and orderly shutdown and preparations we are making as the result of the federal budget impasse.”

At Los Alamos, officials have already furloughed about 290 environmental contractors, including some 200 involved in the processing and shipping of low-level radioactive waste to a special repository in Carlsbad.

But they noted that “protecting nuclear material, national security information, workers, the public and the environment remains an essential function.”

The Democratic members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation sent a letter Tuesday to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging him to ensure employees at New Mexico’s national laboratories are compensated if they are furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.

In their letter to Moniz, the lawmakers said that although lab workers are contract employees, “they are subject to much of the same uncertainties as their colleagues in the federal workforce.”

“Congress clearly intends that those workers who provide such vital services for our nation should be insulated from the effects of a protracted shutdown,” they wrote.

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