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Date:  Sept. 10, 2013





Quality of Science and Engineering at National Security Labs Is Solid, But Work Environment and Technical Issues Need to Be Addressed


WASHINGTON — The science and engineering capabilities that underpin the nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship and nonproliferation missions at the nation’s three national security laboratories are “healthy and vibrant,” says a new report from the National Research Council.  The committee that wrote the report found no problems with the quality of science and engineering that would prevent certification of the stockpile. However, the report identifies several issues that, if not addressed, have the potential to erode the ability to perform high-quality work at the laboratories.


Congress asked the Research Council to review the quality of scientific research and engineering at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), which are part of the National Nuclear Security Administration.  This report is the second of the two-phase study; the first report, released in February 2012, examined management of the laboratories.


The new report examines the laboratories’ capabilities in four areas of fundamental importance to their primary missions: (1) weapons design; (2) system engineering and understanding of the effects of aging on system performance; (3) weapons science base; and (4) modeling and simulation. In many areas, science and engineering at the laboratories is of very high quality.  But the report identifies several stresses that could contribute to the deterioration of the work environment for scientists and engineers and limit the quality of their work in the future – and thus the nation’s ability to benefit fully from the laboratories’ potential. 


The United States declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear weapons testing in 1992.  In the absence of new test data, the science-based stockpile stewardship program relies on pre-moratorium test data, computer models and simulations, surveillance, and other experiments . The laboratories are building enhanced computational models that account for changes in weapon properties as they age, and this requires state-of-the-art S&E capabilities in a number of areas, the report says.  NNSA should conduct a detailed assessment of simulation and modeling needs over the next decade and implement an adequately funded plan to meet those needs.


Experimental work is essential to the laboratories’ missions.  While the safety risks inherent in some experimentation must be controlled, the report says that the current system for managing these risks is contributing to escalating costs and schedule delays, and in some cases may limit experimentation.  The U.S. Department of Energy and NNSA should work with laboratory managers to review the system for assessing and mitigating these risks to improve efficiency while maintaining a safe working environment.


The laboratories maintain and operate world-class experimental facilities, but smaller experimental facilities are also essential for the laboratories to conduct their work and to attract and retain staff, the report says. For example, these smaller facilities are important for producing weapons components such as neutron generators or for processing plutonium and evaluating how it ages. The laboratory directors should ensure a proper balance between these small scientific facilities and the larger signature facilities.




The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



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Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Laboratory Assessments Board


Committee to Review the Quality of the Management and of the Science and Engineering Research at the Department of Energy National Security Laboratories – Phase 2


C. Kumar Patel1,2 (co-chair)

President and CEO

Pranalytica Inc.

Santa Monica, California


Charles Shank1,2 (co-chair)

Senior Fellow

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Janelia Farm Research Campus

Ashburn, Virginia


John Ahearne2

Executive Director Emeritus

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

Research Triangle Park, North Carolina


Christina Back

Advanced Nuclear Materials Leader

General Atomics

San Diego, California


Phillip Colella1

Senior Mathematician and Group Leader

Applied Numerical Algorithms Group

E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Berkeley, California


Jill Dahlburg


Space Sciences Division

Naval Research Laboratory

Washington, District of Columbia


Roger Falcone

Professor of Physics

Department of Physics

University of California

Berkeley, California


Yogendra Gupta

Director, Institute of Shock Physics


Regents, Professor

Department of Physics

Washington State University

Pullman, Washington


Wick Haxton1

Professor of Physics

Department of Physics

University of California

Berkeley, California


Michael Hopkins


Department of Chemistry

University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois


Raymond Jeanloz1

Professor of Earth and Planetary Science and Astronomy

University of California

Berkeley, California


John Kammerdiener

Independent Consultant

Marble Falls, Texas


William Martin

Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences

Department of Nuclear Engineering

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan


Margaret Murnane1

Professor of Physics and Fellow

Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics

University of Colorado

Boulder, Colorado


Robert Nickell2


Applied Science and Technology

San Diego, California


Kenneth Peddicord

Professor of Nuclear Engineering, and

  Director, Nuclear Power Institute

Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas


Paul Peercy2

Dean Emeritus

College of Engineering

University of Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin


Anthony Rollett

Professor and Head

Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Robert Rosner

William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor

University of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois


Robert Selden

Independent Consultant

Los Alamos, New Mexico


Kenneth Shea


Chemistry Department

University of California

Irvine, California


Francis Sullivan


Super Computing Center

Center for Computing Sciences

Institute for Defense Analyses

Bowie, Maryland


Gary Was


Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan


Katherine Yelick

Associate Laboratory Director of Computer Sciences Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and

Professor, Electrical Engineering and

  Computer Sciences

Computer Science Division

University of California

Berkeley, California





Alan Shaw

Study Director


Scott Weidman

Responsible Staff Officer




1 Member, National Academy of Sciences

2 Member, National Academy of Engineering

3 Member, Institute of Medicine