When retired Vice Admiral George "Pete" Nanos resigned from his post as director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) on Friday (May 6) after two years working to "drain the swamp" of financial and management problems, many scientists who bristled under his tough management style set about rejoicing. But the elation has quickly been tempered by the realization that the lab is left with many problems.
As the seventh director of the laboratory, which is managed by the University of California and also features a biosafety level (BSL)–3 laboratory, Nanos raised the ire of a portion of the lab's workforce and scientists when he ordered all work to come to a halt in July over safety and security concerns prompted by the loss of two classified disks and a laser accident that injured an intern's eye. Early in the shutdown's nearly 7-month course, Nanos blamed a few "cowboy" scientists for failing to follow proper safety and security procedures, and called them "buttheads" for putting their work above all else. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Energy Department later determined the disks never existed, and costs associated with the shutdown have been estimated at between $120 million and $360 million.
"Immediately, there was a lot of celebrating," said Doug Roberts, a 20-year LANL veteran computer scientist and creator of a blog,
But "there are some mixed emotions up here right now," Roberts told
A number of LANL scientists eligible for retirement have threatened they will resign to secure their University of California pensions amid uncertainty over whether the DOE will guarantee the new manager will match the school's benefits. Current projections, based on LANL figures, are that retirements will be up about 50% this year, to 4.6% of the total workforce, or about 380 employees. That compares to average retirement rates for the last 2 years of 3%.
David Carroll, a longtime LANL employee working with a group called Coalition for LANL Excellence, told
Nanos, who is taking a job at the Pentagon, will be replaced by Robert Kuckuck, a longtime Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory nuclear weapons scientist who will act as interim director through the end of the current laboratory contract with the Energy Department in September.