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Los Alamos National Labs to cut 11 percent of personnel over budget, plutonium facility

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Los Alamos has a long tradition of intellectual prowess, boasting the most PhD's per capita of any city in the United States. Without the pull of technical jobs, however, maintaining this expertise could prove a challenge.

For much of its storied 69-year history, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has represented the apex of America's intellectual talent.

Converted from a boys' school in 1942 with the purpose of centralizing the work of Manhattan Project scientists, the laboratory's research, backed by 7,600 employees and a budget of $2.55 billion, now includes innovation in the areas of disease prevention, fuel cell technology, and climate change.

As the New York Times reported March 3, that tradition may be in jeopardy. According to press release published Feb. 21, the lab plans to cut 11 percent of its employees this spring.

The restructuring, which will occur primarily through voluntary separation, is motivated by a combination of budget cuts and a decision by the Obama administration to delay by five years the construction of a 270,000 sq. ft. Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility.

The project, which would primarily serve as a facility for plutonium research, has previously been criticized by environmental advocates, including the Project on Government Oversight, as both unnecessary and expensive. According to an April 15, 2011, report by the Department of Energy, the project's initial $375,000 price tag now hovers between $3.7 and $5.9 billion.

Though the community has a long tradition of intellectual prowess, boasting the most PhD's per capita of any city in the United States, maintaining this expertise without the pull of technical jobs may pose a challenge.

"What’s going to keep people here?" asked Peggy Durgin, co-owner of the Otowi Station book store, in an interview with the Times. "It’s going to be tough," she said.

However rosy, the images from the 1963 promotional pamphlet pictured below aren't likely to be much help.

[via New York Times]

Photos: Colleen A. Bryant/Flickr

Claire Lambrecht

Contributing Writer

Claire Lambrecht has written for the New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Nation, and CBS MoneyWatch. Previously, she taught English as a Teach for America Corps Member and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She holds degrees from Cornell University, the University of Hawaii, and the Arthur M. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure