The three NNSA laboratories have a broad science and engineering (S&E) base that supports the nuclear weapons mission. The S&E research activities at the laboratories are an integral element of their unique mission to ensure a safe, secure, and reliable U.S. nuclear deterrent well into the future. Building on decades of S&E advances and infrastructure developments in support of the weapons mission, each of the laboratories has broadened its S&E activities to address, in addition to other areas such as basic science and energy, a wide array of national security challenges—global security, including cyber security issues; intelligence community issues; energy and climate security; the Department of Defense’s non-nuclear needs; and countering future threats, including weapons of mass destruction and bioterrorism.
The fundamental and applied S&E research activities supported by the nuclear weapons (NW) programs at the laboratories have proven to be essential to the success of their broader national security missions, and they are expected to continue to be so. Although the evaluation contained in this chapter is focused on the NW mission, the findings are likely relevant to many laboratory programs beyond the nuclear weapons mission.
Finding 4.1. The overall quality of science base activities is excellent at all three laboratories. The NNSA laboratories successfully integrate fundamental science, advanced technology, and engineering activities to address important national security challenges in a timely manner, including important multidisciplinary science and technology (S&T) problems of national interest. Their achievements and advances in a broad range of science base research are impressive.
Despite these well-deserved accolades, each of the NNSA laboratories will need to successfully address important challenges pertaining to the workforce and the work environment if they are to continue their legacy of impact to the national security mission well into the future. These overarching issues are discussed below, following the discussion of each of the four technical thrust areas.
Materials science, chemistry, and engineering are of critical importance to the nuclear weapons mission at each of the NNSA laboratories, and more generally to their broader national security missions. Virtually every aspect of stockpile maintenance depends critically on the laboratories’ ability to synthesize, formulate, integrate, and evaluate materials into systems that eventually result in a functional weapon. An in-depth understanding of materials, including the effects of aging on their characteristics, is central to all aspects of the nuclear missions. In addition to age-related changes in materials within existing weapons, replacement materials (when needed) may not be identical because of changes in raw feedstock or industrial processes. Thus, some components of weapons in the stockpile will be challenging to replicate exactly. To help address these challenges, the laboratories are developing new approaches, including first-principles computations, to understand and control materials properties at the nano-scale
level to improve materials performance. In addition, new electronic and photonic materials are being developed and evaluated to continue to decrease feature sizes and to improve device and component reliability.
At LANL, the 5-year plan of strategic goals and S&E needs related in that laboratory’s fiscal year 2011 LDRD Annual Report identifies eight necessary pillars of science, technology, and engineering, of which “materials on demand” is most germane to the current discussion. The materials strategy at LANL focuses on the development of materials with controlled functionality to provide solutions that enable LANL’s mission. Within this pillar, effort is concentrated on three crosscutting themes: defects and interfaces, extreme environments, and emergent phenomena. Materials are at the heart of the LANL weapons program because they are central to stockpile assessments, life extensions, and manufacturing as well as to weapons physics, weapons engineering, and stockpile manufacturing.
The quality of materials science and engineering activities at the laboratories appears to be high, although the committee has some concerns about quality over the long term because the materials expertise across the laboratories, and thus the commitment to supporting this pillar, is dispersed across the organizations. Based on data supplied by the laboratories on publications in peer-reviewed, top-ranked journals, each of the laboratories has a demonstrated track record of excellence.1 LLNL publications in chemistry and materials over the past decade have received more citations than average for papers in these fields.2 LANL’s intellectual output as measured by materials publications has been relatively constant over the past 5 years. Just comparing DOE laboratories, LANL ranks second in number only to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) among five DOE laboratories (LANL, ORNL, Argonne National Laboratory, LLNL, SNL). In chemistry, depending on which journals are considered, LANL publication numbers range from second to fourth out of seven DOE laboratories, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.3 The degree to which collaborations and formation of cross-disciplinary teams to attack problems are an integral part of the culture of each laboratory is impressive. Among the material scientists at all of the laboratories, there is a healthy environment that fosters and encourages the formation of research teams to tackle problems that are of high priority to the mission of the laboratory. All three laboratories are able to sustain research collaborations with top-quality academic researchers in the United States (and, as appropriate, abroad), and they are able to hire high-quality postdoctoral researchers.
Despite its importance for the laboratories’ broader national security missions, however, materials science may be at risk in the future due to inadequate planning and coordination across the NNSA complex. While the LANL materials science and chemistry effort is perhaps the best defined and supported, there is an overall lack of coordination in materials science and chemistry programs across the NNSA laboratories. Materials science was described as being a “quiet capability” at LLNL. LLNL staff pointed out that processes are underway to develop a vision for the capability that would define core expertise in materials-oriented divisions (including expertise in high-performance computing). These efforts, however, appear to be more aspirational than concrete.
SNL leadership is taking steps to strengthen its materials work, including a set-aside of additional resources for fundamental science projects through augmentation of the LDRD and a request to customers for resources for materials science. Leadership at LANL also appears to have a heightened awareness of what the committee was told are reduced funding streams in support of basic materials science4 and of the important role that materials science plays in the laboratories’ mission.
1 D. Teter, LANL Materials Science and Technology Division Leader, Publication statistics in materials science, chemistry, and engineering at all three laboratories, presented to committee August 14, 2012.
2 The “average” is that measured by ISI for all papers published in a given field (here, materials science and chemistry) from all institutions worldwide. Data were provided by LLNL in the handout “Executive Summary of Scientific and Technical Metrics at LLNL, Summer 2012,” p. 1.
3 D. Teter, Publication statistics, 2012.
4 D. Teter, Publication statistics, 2012.
Finding 4.2. Failure to adequately nurture the materials science capability could put it at risk and jeopardize meeting the needs of the nuclear weapons mission in the future.
Recommendation 4.1. The laboratories, in conjunction with NNSA, should define, plan for, and support an integrated program in materials science necessary to sustain the laboratories’ nuclear weapons mission.
An additional challenge for preserving the quality of the S&E enterprise in materials science and chemistry is the declining state of facilities and the physical infrastructure. For example, some LLNL laboratory facilities for materials research (particularly chemistry) are widely recognized to be of poor quality.5,6 Senior management recognizes the seriousness of this issue and is taking steps to address high-priority needs, but the scope of the problem greatly exceeds the limited budget available for this purpose. The declining quality of laboratory space at LANL represents a significant long-term threat to the quality of the S&E base and fulfillment of the nuclear weapons mission. LANL staff commented frequently about the poor condition of many buildings and facilities that house expensive and advanced experimental equipment. Staff members stated that basic necessities for the workplace are in some cases disappearing or delayed, and there have been occasions when researchers found it necessary to bring their own basic, daily housekeeping supplies to work. In contrast, at SNL, the committee found materials researchers to be quite pleased with the excellent facilities.
Recommendation 4.2. LANL and LLNL management, in conjunction with NNSA, need to address infrastructure issues to sustain excellence in materials science and chemistry.
An in-depth understanding of how materials behave under extreme dynamic loading (very large compressions, high temperatures, large deformations, and short timescales) is at the core of the S&E base for the weapons program and is important for related national security missions at the laboratories. The intellectual vitality and excellence of the S&E that provides this understanding is essential to the health of the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), non-proliferation and threat reduction, and applications related to conventional munitions. Although dynamic loading is of primary interest to the SSP, static high-pressure/high-temperature studies add considerable value to broader scientific and programmatic objectives. Within the umbrella of dynamic compression science, the focus is on condensed matter at extreme conditions (CMEC). Broadly speaking, CMEC involves thermo-mechanical loading of a material that is initially in a condensed-matter state. Depending on the specifics of the thermo-mechanical loading, the end state can be either a condensed-matter state, warm dense matter, or a dense non-ideal plasma. This section is focused only on those loading conditions where the resulting final state is also a condensed-matter state.
All three laboratories are engaged in CMEC activities, but there are significant variations in the levels of effort and the scientific emphasis at each. In a large measure, the majority of the scientific activities at each laboratory reflect the favored experimental platform of that laboratory to produce dynamic compression in materials: lasers at LLNL, explosives and high-velocity impacts at LANL, and
5 “More generally, however, LLNL has not been able to keep pace with the needs for reinvestment in an aging infrastructure.” This statement refers to LLNL facilities in general, including but not limited to materials science, chemistry, and engineering facilities (U UCRL-AR-143313-10, FY11 ten year site plan, LLNL, March 2010; R-143313-12, FY13 twenty-five year site plan, LLNL, September 2012).
6 Regarding office buildings at LLNL: “However, most of the permanent facilities are reaching their end-of-life-cycle, requiring refurbishment, modernization, or replacement . . . backlog in deferred maintenance.” Regarding these aging facilities: “From FY08 through FY09, over 850K gsf have been vacated, and an additional 750K gsf are targeted to be shut down.” See UCRL-AR-143313-10, FY11 ten year site plan, LLNL, March 2010.
pulsed power at SNL. Although each experimental platform creates significant benefits (and unique attributes) for CMEC efforts, each platform also has associated limitations. However, the coordination and prioritization of CMEC activities across the different platforms was not clearly defined.
Some noteworthy CMEC achievements in recent years are shockless (or ramp) compression at hundreds of gigapascals (using pulsed power and laser platforms) to produce thermodynamic states that were previously inaccessible; significant advances in multiscale-theory and computations to examine a broad range of condensed matter phenomena; effects of pulse shape and loading path on dynamic fracture; and advances in static pressure research through synchrotron measurements. Each of these achievements, scientifically noteworthy, also provides significant benefits for NW programmatic objectives.
Looking first at LLNL, the committee observed that scientific achievements in multiscale-theory and computations for a wide range of materials, including high explosives, are impressive and represent a longstanding strength at LLNL—that is, the lab’s ability to integrate theoretical advances at different length scales with continuing advances in hardware and software to benefit both scientific and programmatic activities. Lasers achieve shockless compression of materials to peak stresses of several terapascals, achieving condensed-matter states previously unattainable. This development opens up a new field—cold dense matter science. The static high-pressure, high-temperature research activities at LLNL are likely the strongest among the NNSA laboratories, and synchrotron measurements have been used very effectively for both scientific and programmatic needs. The combination of static pressure and laser-shock capabilities has been creatively used to study light elements and their mixtures. Overall, the scientific productivity, as measured by publications and professional recognition, is excellent, and the transition of scientific results to mission needs is commendable.
CMEC experimental activities at LLNL have relied primarily on laser platforms; the scientific publications and staff member comments supported this observation. Since no experimental platform can cover all S&E needs (which span a wide range of length and timescales and stress magnitudes), a better balance among laser-experiments, gas-gun experiments, and static pressure experiments would be desirable.
The quality of the published results from LANL indicate that experimental CMEC activities, including high-explosive (HE) studies, are strong there. Although more traditional drivers (HE and high-velocity impacts) have been used primarily in CMEC activities, significant advances have been made with other drivers. Studies of solid-solid phase transition kinetics and the relationship to material defects and microstructure are addressing long-standing scientific challenges that are programmatically relevant.
The integration of expertise in materials science and in dynamic experiments is an important feature of LANL activities. Two scientifically important and programmatically relevant advances stemming from this integration are particularly noteworthy: (1) LANL researchers have unequivocally demonstrated the importance of stress pulse shape (and not just amplitude and duration) on tensile damage; and (2) a clever set of experiments has demonstrated the role of loading path on tensile damage in metals.
In addition, static pressure research is growing at LANL. The HE effort is aimed at gaining better insight into the response under dynamic loading of insensitive high explosives, an important element of the modern stockpile. LANL researchers are to be commended for using the Z facility at SNL for CMEC activities.
Some concerns and challenges regarding the future quality of the S&E base conveyed by many LANL staff members who met with the committee included the following: the large number of projects assigned to some individual staff members; the costs per full-time equivalent; uncertainty in budgets; and competition between short-term program demands and longer-term scientific investments. The committee is concerned that these matters could pose a risk to long-term S&E research quality.
Since the 1960s CMEC activities at SNL have been strong. SNL’s CMEC activities are currently centered mainly around experiments at the Z facility and a variety of multiscale theory and computations efforts. Over the past decade, on the other hand, the use of gas-gun and static pressure research has declined. Within the scope of CMEC activities at SNL, the quality of the research activities utilizing the Z
facility is first rate and has produced noteworthy and significant achievements, examples of which are described below. Pioneering developments at SNL demonstrated the use of pulsed-power capability (the Z facility) to carry out shock-wave experiments with unprecedented accuracy and at stresses previously unattainable in laboratory studies. The integration of theory and computations with experiments associated with this work is impressive and can serve as a model for similar work. SNL deserves credit for pioneering the development of shockless compression experiments at high stresses. Shockless experiments at the Z facility (and subsequently at Omega and NIF) represent game-changing developments both on the scientific front and for addressing programmatic needs. Although the origins of the Z facility are in the ICF program, its use for understanding the dynamic response of materials at extreme conditions has been both unique and impressive. In addition to the quality of the work, collaborative efforts at the Z facility among the three laboratories appear to be quite productive. However, as stated by several staff members during the meeting with committee members, excessive Environmental Safety and Health (ES&H) bureaucracy and internal constraints have limited the experimental productivity for dynamic materials research at the Z facility. This is an important issue for SNL management.
High-energy-density science (HEDS) addresses dense plasmas and matter at conditions of high pressures and temperatures well beyond the thermodynamic states considered in the previous section, “Condensed Matter/Materials Science at Extreme Conditions.” HEDS is one of the fundamental underpinnings of science-based stockpile stewardship. In particular, thermonuclear fusion can take place in this regime under the appropriate conditions. The health of HEDS is essential to various elements of the NW program.
Methodical studies of this challenging regime have become accessible in the past 20 years due to technological advances in high-powered laboratory facilities and computer simulations. With the absence of nuclear-explosion testing, the development of tools and techniques to help certify weapons and assess changes in the stockpile through other experiments has become critical. Accordingly, the NNSA laboratories have played a major role in the development of the requisite experimental and computational capabilities for HEDS.
Because HEDS is so integrated and complex, the design and execution of relevant experiments are challenging—for example, experiments to measure quantum mechanical and relativistic effects and experiments to benchmark simulations and codes that are important to the stockpile. While all three laboratories articulate the importance of the core weapons mission, they have difficulty describing an overall plan of how to allocate resources to different aspects of HEDS work that underpins weapons physics. Nevertheless, good progress has been made in determining many of the complex phenomena relevant to weapons physics. For example, equations of state, shock physics, hydrodynamics, and opacities are requisite S&E-base competencies that are sustained in the NNSA laboratories. However, the laboratories presented differing priorities, and it is not clear how well those priorities are coordinated.
At LLNL, the NIF dominates the HEDS program. NIF is a unique facility with multiple important missions that include stockpile stewardship as well as attempts to demonstrate ICF. Until recently, much of the NIF program focused on ICF. For the HEDS activity, the combination of terawatt power, megajoule energies, and precision-pulse shaping, together with a flexible target chamber and target-manufacturing capability and an ever increasing suite of diagnostics, makes NIF the finest scientific facility of its type in the world. The tri-laboratory HEDS scientists associated with NIF excel at integrating theory and modeling programs into the experimental design and post-shot data analysis. LLNL, in particular, has spearheaded many critical experiments that have resulted in innovative measurements of material equation of states, capsule ablation and symmetry, and hohlraum plasma conditions.
NIF has attracted outstanding talent internationally to work on critical components of the facility, including the laser, targets, diagnostics, and the experimental campaigns associated with NIF. The promise of this unique platform, the push of NIF’s technical capabilities to the frontiers, and the desire to contribute to multiple missions have led to considerable resources being devoted to NIF, in terms of federal funding, internal laboratory resources including LDRD, and a major fraction of the nation’s talent in HEDS.
LANL has developed a world-leading capability in particle beam generation through intense laser-matter interaction. Significant understanding of ultra-intense laser/matter interaction is being developed through strong interaction of theory and experimental groups at the important and unique Trident laser facility at LANL. Kinetic plasma modeling is an example of leading research at LANL, in which foundational theoretical and experimental capabilities are applied to astrophysics, including magnetic flux in terrestrial and solar environments, as well as to applied, mission-oriented problems. A LANL-led campaign also fielded important diagnostics at NIF, and laser/plasma interaction experiments and modeling have led to mitigation of instability effects relevant to fusion targets. LANL’s publication output in HEDS is impressive, with key publications including particle beam generation from intense laser/matter interaction and important work on NIF drive and compressions, as well as experiments at the OMEGA laser.
At SNL, HEDS is centered on the capabilities of the unique Z facility, a pulsed power machine capable of delivering both high peak power and energy. Z-pinches have been studied for nearly 50 years at SNL. A recent refurbishment of the Z machine, completed in 2009, is performing well, and seminal, world-leading SNL experiments have yielded data on the performance of materials, including plutonium, as well as on opacities found in solar atmospheres or capsule implosions. The work is important for stockpile stewardship as well as for the fundamental science base.
There are clear pockets of HEDS excellence in each laboratory, with all three having personnel who have been recognized by Defense Programs Award of Excellence and DOE Early Career Investigator Awards.
The largest recent HEDS effort within NNSA has been the execution of the tri-laboratory National Ignition Campaign (NIC). Recently, DOE acknowledged that efforts to achieve ignition on NIF had not succeeded.7 While many of the design parameters were met or exceeded, model predictions were too optimistic. To move forward on ignition requires a renewed emphasis on a scientific approach that acquires and applies knowledge, over an empirical approach that simply tunes parameters to achieve optimal conditions. Furthermore, the best minds must be recruited and meaningfully engaged. For instance, the NIC has struggled with embracing inclusiveness and accordingly has not fully benefited from the expertise of HEDS researchers at other laboratories (within NNSA and more broadly), and also in other relevant fields, such as those in the weapons physics community. To overcome these challenges, relevant experiments must be undertaken, open debates of scientific merits must be valued, and resources must be distributed throughout the community.
NIF serves to highlight another challenge NNSA laboratories face. Despite the intense focus on ignition, NIF was not built for a singular program. Such a large versatile facility is too expensive to serve only a single mission area of research, and its existence is precarious if monopolized by a single goal. While NIF will continue to explore the physics of ignition in concert with a stepped-up modeling effort, a portion of NIF’s experiments will be devoted to enhancing the stockpile stewardship program’s science base, including HEDS. Accordingly, NIF will be a keystone in the federation of U.S experimental facilities—such as the Z facility at SNL, Trident at LANL, OMEGA at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and Nike at the Naval Research Laboratory—that are available for a broad range of research in plasma physics, atomic physics, and hydrodynamics that encompass stockpile stewardship HEDS, but also more widely for the collection of HEDS thrust areas that include laboratory
7 U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration’s Path Forward to Achieving Ignition in the Inertial Confinement Fusion Program, Report to Congress, December 2012.
astrophysics, beam-induced high-energy-density conditions, and the investigation of ultrafast, ultra-intense laser science.
Even during periods of tight funding, the judicious partitioning of limited resources is necessary to support a balanced scientific portfolio and to ensure optimal utilization of large signature facilities.
Finding 4.3. The existence of a loosely defined collection of HEDS research, including opportunistic research as well as focused programmatic NIC studies, substantiates a broader concern that the NNSA complex has not yet established a national plan for HEDS, including definition of national facilities and corresponding research programs.8
Recommendation 4.3. The laboratories, in conjunction with NNSA, should identify core high-energy-density science experimental and computational capabilities and implement a coherent national program for sustaining those capabilities.
Radiation hydrodynamics, crucial to both laser-based and Z-pinch inertial confinement fusion (and to many other areas that rely on HEDS), is a scientifically challenging area that depends significantly on computer simulations. When executed well, radiation transport research provides a compelling demonstration of the integration of experiments, theory, and simulation to achieve the desired progress. Even the fastest computers and most efficient algorithms are forced to incorporate major approximations for this research, however, due to the complexity of the scientific issues.
A signature accomplishment in this area is resolution of a problem that has long interested the nuclear weapons designers. That a combination of simulations and experiments—including experiments performed at NIF—resolved the underlying physics of a longstanding problem is a tribute to the laboratories’ capabilities and to the effectiveness of their stockpile stewardship.
Recent radiation transport work at LLNL addressed an important issue for the stockpile, gaining significant traction from its experimental grounding. The development of a radiation-driven laboratory platform for experiments was crucial for validating related simulations and for gaining acceptance for the resulting model. LLNL’s cohesive emphasis on radiation transport is reflected in the fact that the organizational chart explicitly recognizes the Secondary Division from the Primary Division within the Weapons Complex Integration Directorate.
In contrast, at LANL there does not appear to be a clearly delineated radiation transport program. There have been, nevertheless, relevant and high-impact efforts at LANL that stretch back over decades. LANL staff cited successful topical efforts, including astrophysics jets, crossed-beam energy transfer, and validation of kinetic effects in laboratory implosions. In these areas, accurate representation of radiation effects is unambiguously necessary for fidelity.
At SNL, there is a high-quality radiation transport effort in the area of developing a Z-pinch source that is powerful enough to perform radiation and x-ray effects experiments. SNL has the tools in place and is advancing the field. Research at the Z facility appears to be approaching an important tipping point. Z-facility research, for example, might be on the verge of making contributions to the field of radiation transport S&T that could be profound. However, the facility does not appear to have adequate funding to build on recent achievements. This work should be encouraged by both the laboratory and NNSA.
8 Lack of a HEDS strategic plan was noted in the report accompanying the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2013: “The Committee directs NNSA to establish an independent advisory committee as soon as possible to help set a strategic direction for inertial confinement fusion and high-energy density physics research and determine how best to use current facilities to advance this scientific field.” The language in this Senate report also mandated the NIF report referenced above.
Analogous with the situation for HEDS work, none of the three laboratories have described an overall plan of how to allocate resources to different aspects of radiation transport as a scientific underpinning of weapons physics. Scientific priorities are unclear, and there are significant open questions and challenges.
Finding 4.4. The NNSA laboratories are at a critical juncture with their large experimental and computational facilities for radiation hydrodynamics and transport, yet sustainability presents a significant challenge.
Recommendation 4.4. The NNSA laboratories should define a tri-laboratory strategy for retaining the science base essential to their nuclear weapons mission, clearly identifying priorities for facilities and programs to achieve and maintain sustainability of the requisite capabilities.
Based on extensive discussions with laboratory staff members, it is clear that they place a significant emphasis on the quality of their S&E activities. They are strongly committed to the overall national security missions of their respective laboratories, and they want their activities to have meaningful scientific and programmatic impacts well into the future. In short, staff members at the NNSA laboratories are dedicated professionals who take pride in their work.
The NNSA laboratories are recruiting excellent early-career staff. Postdoctoral fellows and early-career permanent staff displayed strong enthusiasm and intellectual engagement regarding their projects. The quality of the work displayed during a poster session with these staff members was uniformly high. Access to state-of-the-art research capabilities, the potential to address nationally important issues, and the opportunity to work with outstanding researchers were cited as the primary reasons by them for joining the NNSA laboratories.
A large fraction of technical staff members (80 percent at LLNL) are hired from the ranks of postdoctoral researchers. The recruitment process is from a reasonably deep pool with appropriate selectivity (about 30-40 percent of the postdoctoral researchers are converted to regular staff). At LANL, 1,800 postdoctoral fellows were hosted from 2003 through the present, with approximately 27 percent converted to staff. Applications to the postdoctoral program appear to be numerous, and the quality of applicants remains high.9 The postdoctoral program is the primary pipeline for new talent at both LANL and LLNL, and a dedicated effort has been made to maintain or increase its size and quality. Workforce recruitment at SNL relies more on offering staff positions to new Ph.D.s.10
The effectiveness of the mentoring program for postdoctoral and early-career staff ranges from outstanding to minimal. A clear career path in stockpile stewardship discipline areas at the laboratories was not apparent in spite of the staff’s keen, expressed awareness of their national security missions. If there is no clear career path in this area, it may become increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best and the brightest to the NNSA research missions. In particular, how do new generations obtain hands-on experience with matter at very extreme conditions of pressure and temperature?
Within the areas of S&E covered by this chapter, mid-career staff demonstrated in-depth S&E expertise, important scientific and programmatic accomplishments, and a strong commitment to
9 LA-UR-12-23908, Alan Bishop presentation to committee August 13, 2012, shows postdoctoral candidates at LANL by quarter FY06-FY12. The number was about 350 per quarter through the end of FY09, when it began to climb, reaching about 450 by the beginning of FY11, where it has remained. In FY12, the postdoctoral population of LANL was about 450. Analogous figures from the other laboratories were not readily available.
10 Compared with the other two laboratories, SNL has more engineers and fewer scientists. In general (i.e., not just at these three laboratories) postdoctoral positions are used much less within engineering than within science. However, the postdoctoral population at SNL and LLNL are roughly equal (~210) and less than half the 450 at LANL.
addressing the needs of the national security mission. However, the following concerns were cited by staff members: micromanaging of research activities by program managers within and outside the laboratory; fragmentation of a researcher’s time over as many as 5 to 7 projects per staff member in some cases; and increasing costs associated with research activities, particularly for experiments. Because mid-career scientists represent the experts who play a key role in achieving S&E advances to address the mission needs, decline in their productivity and/or their loss, due to the factors cited, can have significant, negative impacts on the future quality of the science base programs.
Finding 4.5. While good staff members are recruited and often retained through early- to mid-career, an effective path for developing the next generation of scientific leadership—particularly for the stockpile stewardship program—is not clear.
Two other issues also affect the morale of staff members and possibly the quality of S&E activities. Budget uncertainties affect the planning and continuity of research activities. And restrictions on participation in S&E meetings and conferences limit necessary professional interactions. Conferences and professional meetings offer a necessary means for laboratory researchers to demonstrate excellence relative to their peers internationally; because the United States no longer tests nuclear weapons, the credibility of U.S. deterrence rests on the credibility of our laboratory scientists and engineers in the outside world. Participation in conferences is crucial for sustaining the quality of S&E at the NNSA laboratories, particularly through professional growth of early-career staff.
All three laboratories stated a strong interest in recruiting women and minority staff members. There appears to be growing participation by women in S&E in all sectors of industry and academia, resulting in increased competition in recruiting women at all career levels, including entry to management. To compete, the NNSA laboratories need to carefully monitor recruitment, retention, and career advancement of a diverse workforce to ensure continued excellence.
Because a large fraction of S&E graduates are not U.S. citizens,11 the NNSA laboratories face challenges in recruiting staff members into areas that require security clearances. Moreover, U.S. citizens who are outstanding graduates in S&E are in strong demand. The landscape is not uniform: there are shortages of qualified applicants in some disciplines and (more than) adequate numbers in others. For example, HEDS staff at LLNL reported a rich choice of applicants. Exciting and challenging scientific research remains a major attraction for new graduates. As such, the scientific enterprise at the NNSA laboratories needs to remain strong to ensure recruitment of the best talent.
With the resources available to them and the programmatic guidance developed in conjunction with NNSA, all three laboratories have processes in place to integrate the different stockpile stewardship disciplines together on selected topics. They all actively assess and make decisions and, as needed, compromise to prioritize support for in-house and shared large-scale facilities that are required to perform stockpile research.
At LLNL and LANL, a significant fraction of postdoctoral scholars and junior employees are supported in some manner through LDRD funding. Given that the majority of this funding is directed toward projects aligned with lab, DOE, and NNSA strategic plans, this support mechanism provides potential future technical staff with exposure to mission-relevant research.
Finding 4.6. The LDRD programs appear to be well managed at all three laboratories, and these programs are the primary means of supporting new and creative ideas, training new staff, and fostering meaningful collaborations with academic institutions. The novel and innovative approaches supported by LDRD are essential to the nuclear weapons mission.
Funding to sustain scientific research, however, is not stable, which can compromise quality. The impact of this instability on the facilities is evidenced by inconsistencies in support among the various
11 National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF 12-317, May 2012.
areas, such as weapons physics versus ignition physics. For instance, the fledgling user program at NIF, at its current funding level, does not have enough flexibility to support users across a breadth of experimental areas.12
At all three laboratories, staff expressed concerns about conditions that erode the experimental environment and make it difficult for staff to be creative and innovative. Staff claimed that intellectual inquiry is often impeded by micromanagement through excessive reporting requirements and without an adequate cost/benefit analysis related to ES&H processes. A recurring theme at all three laboratories appeared to be a lack of shared vision or purpose between the ES&H staff and the S&E staff to achieve a proper balance between process and productivity.13 ES&H staff at the laboratories see their reporting responsibilities to the health, safety, and security staff at DOE HQ (via the laboratory director) and do not have responsibility to the programs themselves. DOE has resisted external regulation in the ES&H area (say, via the Occupational Safety & Health Administration). Furthermore, within DOE in general, the ES&H and programs are not well coordinated. This is an example of DOE telling the laboratories how to do things, not just what to do, as discussed in the 1995 “Galvin Report” and elsewhere.
Finding 4.7. The staff’s expression of concern about the costs and process burdens (e.g., excessive operational formality and lack of shared purpose between ES&H staff and S&E staff) associated with relevant experiments is a significant issue because experiments are needed for addressing stockpile stewardship issues, training and code validation, and to ensure ongoing stockpile stewardship productivity.
Because this concern was reported in multiple discussions with laboratory staff, it is discussed further in Chapter 6, leading to Recommendation 6.1.
More generally, a supportive and nurturing work environment that encourages highly creative scientists and engineers across all S&E disciplines is essential across the three laboratories. Such an environment fosters the ability of scientists and engineers to do their work while encouraging the retention of senior staff and the recruitment of early-career staff. The work environment at the laboratories is deteriorating and is at risk of further deterioration. Early-career staff at the laboratories complained to the committee about time-accounting restrictions that seem to limit their working on new ideas at home or on weekends. Similar restrictions impede their ability to discuss task-related problems with other laboratory staff (who would have to be authorized to charge time). Some observe that their chargeable time is often too fractionated among several tasks, reducing productivity and efficiency. Inconsistent and unpredictable funding profiles were also cited, along with conflicts between short-term project demands and sustained scientific progress.14 These restrictions arise from a lack of trust by
12 One of the study committee members, who has also been a member of the review committee for NIF for the past 3 years, commented that the fundamental problem has been a lack of agreement between LLNL and NNSA about the user program. In particular, during the period of the NIC, diverting shot resources to the user program at a level that was originally advertised when the user program was established simply did not occur. This was not a funding issue, but a priority issue. NIF does not have a formal program of supporting scientists, but rather has an informal process of assigning staff to user efforts. This informal process breaks down when programmatic needs become urgent (as they did during NIC). The fact that NIF is pursuing experimental campaigns that look amazingly like NIC without being called NIC means that this issue has not been resolved. As far as the user program is concerned, what is really needed is a formal agreement between LLNL and NNSA that establishes the user program as understood within the DOE Office of Science. Otherwise, there is really no de facto user program at NIF, only good intentions.
13 See the phase I report, National Research Council (NRC), Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering and at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2013.
14 This matter was also addressed in the phase 1 report—see, for example, NRC, Managing for High-Quality Science and Engineering and at the NNSA National Security Laboratories, 2013, p. 17. That report noted that the four-agency agreement on national security laboratory governance was an important step in fixing this. In the past,
laboratory and NNSA management, resulting in excessive operational formality embedded in the implementation of statutes, rules, regulations, and policies that are put into place to solve specific problems, sometimes across a broader set of institutions than these three laboratories. Impeding the laboratories’ S&E is clearly an unintended consequence.
Another major problem is the restriction on attendance at professional meetings and unclassified scientific conferences and on funding for associated travel. These restrictions are the result of actions taken by the Office of Management and Budget and by DOE following the revelation in 2012 about spending by the General Services Administration for a conference in 2010.15 Scientists in national security laboratories are already isolated from the broader world of science due to classification and the nature of the work. To further isolate the laboratories’ scientists and engineers by restricting access to unclassified scientific conferences will limit their career development, their knowledge of the latest scientific advances, external collaborations, and their ability to bring the full range of relevant science to bear on their work at the laboratories. To ease the effect of these travel restrictions, Congress might consider requiring that travel restrictions to scientific conferences by scientists and engineers at NNSA national security laboratories be no more restrictive than those that apply to scientists and engineers funded by other agencies of the federal government.
Major Facilities and Infrastructure
The quality of infrastructure that supports the science base is uneven, ranging from world-leading to unsatisfactory. At one extreme, the NIF at LLNL is a world-leading facility of impressive design and engineering. At the other extreme, at the same laboratory (and at the others as well) there are facilities that the committee understands to be in poor condition (particularly because of their age), including some at which scientists and engineers report having to perform basic housekeeping functions in order to be able to conduct their work. Funding difficulties resulting from federal budget contraction make it very difficult to address this issue. Nevertheless, continued careful monitoring and planning by NNSA and laboratory management is essential in order to set appropriate priorities for facility improvement.
Balance Between Major Experimental Facilities and Smaller Ones
The laboratories maintain and operate world-leading major facilities for the science base—such as DARHT,16 NIF,17 Z,18 and petascale19 computing centers. These major facilities are vital to the execution of the laboratories’ missions. Smaller facilities are also crucial for research in the science base, and they are an important component of the work environment that attracts new talent and retains experienced staff. As discussed in Chapter 6, the rising costs of building and operating large signature facilities can threaten the continued support of vital smaller facilities, particularly in periods of greatly constrained budgets. Moreover, because signature facilities have greater public and political visibility and can be seen as being inextricably bound up with a laboratory’s fate, there can be understandable pressure on management to sacrifice other capabilities in order to ensure the continuing support of major facilities.
task orders from agencies other than DOE were often designed to tap laboratory staff and infrastructure to obtain a specific product without investing in the development of staff or facilities.
16 The Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydro-Test facility at LANL.
17 The National Ignition Facility at LLNL.
18 Z Pulsed Power Facility at SNL, also known as the Z machine or the Z-pinch facility.
19 Computing facilities capable of performance in excess of one petaflop, that is, 1 quadrillion floating point operations per second.