LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) - Los Alamos National Laboratory on Tuesday announced plans to lay off up to 800 employees in the face of shrinking budgets and a stalled plutonium research facility.
LANL officials briefing employees on the plan said the action is necessary given the current budget cut of $300 million and likely future reductions.
If approved by the National Nuclear Security Administration, LANL would cut its permanent workforce by 400-800 jobs, up to about 10 percent of staff. For now 3,000 contractor jobs are not affected, officials said.
"We are taking these actions now in an attempt to reduce the risks of involuntary layoffs," LANL Director Charlie McMillan said in a statement released by the lab. "The plan we're submitting will position the lab to continue executing our missions today and in the future."
Before the lab made its intentions public, former-Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate nomination, pounced on the plan as a broken promise of the Obama administration.
Specifically she cited the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility, a delayed building project whose costs has grown over the last eight years from an estimated $400 million to as much as $6 billion.
The Obama administration budget for the next fiscal year released last week calls for a five-year hold on the new center that would consolidate plutonium research in an earthquake-resistant building.
"A little over a year ago, President Obama made a commitment to modernize our nuclear weapons complex in order to maintain a safe, reliable nuclear deterrent at lower levels of forces'" Wilson said in a statement. In his new budget, however, President Obama has broken that commitment.
"And as a result, an estimated 1,000 jobs will be killed for 10 years in Los Alamos.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., questioned how the layoffs will affect the lab's mission and the economy of northern New Mexico.
"Nationally, budgets are being cut to deal with the deficit, and I'm concerned that the NNSA's budget blueprint will impact the talent at LANL and the vital work being performed there," Udall said in a statement released late Tuesday. "LANL is critical to our national security and state's economy, and I will continue to push for adequate funding at both of New Mexico's national labs."
Sen. Jeff Bingman, D-N.M., who is retiring at the end of the year, said that federal belt-tightening was bound to affect New Mexico given the level of government spending in the state.
With the high-profile political wrangling over federal deficits plus the delay in the CMRR, few LANL workers were surprised by the announcement Tuesday afternoon.
"I think it was one of the worst kept secrets ever," lab spokesman Fred deSousa told KRQE News 13. "A lot of people already had an inkling that this was happening, a lot of people can read the newspapers and watch television.
"I think they took it as well as people can take it."
Employees of certain departments involved in national-security work will not be allowed to apply for the voluntary layoffs.
Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque also reacted to the news assuring the community that there are neither plans nor needs for layoffs.
Los Alamos, then known as Project Y, came to be in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project which designed, built and ultimately tested the first atomic bomb.
While about half of the lab budget still goes into weapons work, the lab's role has diversified into energy research and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
After getting out of federal prison early this week it looks like former state Sen. Manny Aragón isn't at a halfway house after all. He's back at his own house in the South Valley.
The owner and an employee of a local smoke shop are in federal custody accused of selling spice at the Rio Rancho store.
The New Mexico State Police officer who fired his weapon at van filled with kids during a traffic stop gone bad has been fired.
The civil case filed against former cop Levi Chavez in the gunshot death of his wife is coming to an end without a trial.
Could there be a serial dog snatcher in Roswell?
New Mexico is at the beginning of a deep freeze, and state officials are paying close attention.